When I first heard that V.S. Naipaul was writing a book about the South, it made me nervous. What would the author of Among the Believers make of Jim and Tammy? Could we look for Louisiana: A Wounded Civilization?
Well, I've been reading A Turn in the South, just out last winter from Knopf. I'm supposed to review it for another magazine, so I won't do that here. But I will say that Naipaul takes it easy on us. His characteristic way of working (harder than it looks) is to go around and talk to people, and he found some good Southerners to talk to. He's properly impressed with our religiosity, and he even kind of admires rednecks—although he may just be saying that to tease the readers of The New York Review of Books.
So it's ungrateful of me to complain. But I have to say that Naipaul makes the South just the teeniest bit—well, boring. And that's not right, because boring is one thing the South has never been and, please God, never will be.
I'm reminded of another pleasant book called Journeys Through the South, written by a journalist named Fred Powledge back about 1977. Powledge had spent part of the 60's pinned down by sniper fire at the University of Mississippi while covering the matriculation of James Meredith, so he was struck by how much Old Dixie had changed. In 1977 he traveled all over and nobody shot at him, even...