I've been struggling on and off with reading lately, bouncing from book to book, reading them but not necessarily loving them, and then I thought to myself, "Why don't I just head back to Travis McGee?"
For those of you who haven't had the (mixed) pleasure, Travis McGee is the detective in a series of extremely satisfying detective novels written by John D. MacDonald and set in Florida, written mainly from the early sixties through…the eighties, maybe? They are fun and smart, there's a strong Chandler vibe to them, but South Florida–style, and quite a bit friendlier. Their titles all play on colors—The Lonely Silver Rain, The Quick Red Fox—and they're intermittently—but wow when it hits you—homophobic.
I know, I know—1962. He's a product of his culture. As are we all of course. The various hatreds that run through us are wide and deep. I shudder to think of all the racism, sexism—everything that will be clear as day to anyone who might read anything I wrote twenty years from now. Or even today. We are all creatures of our times, and there is more than enough hatred flying around for each of us to bear our own burdens of it.
When I read The Great Gatsby, it occurred to me that sure, Fitzgerald was anti-semitic. Meyer Wolfshein is an embarrassingly stereotypical Jew, greasy and corrupt. But it didn't bother me much. There's that whole "product of his times," thing, and Fitzgerald didn't seem to have any particular animus against Jews—just had the regular amount. But when I read Edith Wharton—now, there's someone who really hated Jews, in a special way far beyond what might have been called for generally. And the truth also that I love these books that (sort of) hate me. They're great books. And it makes me wonder—is there a distinction to be made there even—sort of hate vs. virulently despise? I don't know, I only know that I can see it.
And that's the part that's been bugging me. Because John D. MacDonald really hates lesbians. Especially. More than your average person of the time. He went out of his way to freak out about how horrible they were, how difficult it was for them "when faced with an unindoctrinated male" (he actually says this quite a lot for some reason). But I still had fun reading the book. Until I got to that part, and then it knocked me sideways a bit.
I mean, I know this isn't new for any of us who read (or live, really). I do think that we all have some racism, and my hope for the world resides not in the eradication of hatred exactly, but more in the acceptance on all our behalves, of all that we are—hateful, good, tolerant, impossible. And so, in that spirit, I have to accept Edith Wharton and her Jew-hating, John D. MacDonald and his fear of gay women—I have to accept all of it as human.
But boy, does it make you want to put a book down. And boy, does it make me sad for all of us.
2 thoughts on “On Hating, Homophobia, and Books We Love”
I hear what you are saying. Mary Poppins (which I loved) has a real racist chapter in one of the sequels. These authors are products of their upbringing and I guess we do have to accept them as human with frailties. But sometimes it just pulls you out of a story.
I really understand, in John Buchan’s adventures, he seemed to despise everyone (everyone who wasn’t the right sort of Englishman anyway) but I still love them!