Magazine article The American Conservative

Look Homeward, Devil

Magazine article The American Conservative

Look Homeward, Devil

Article excerpt

Thomas Wolfe, the adjectival Tar Heel, not the dandified Virginia expositor of The Right Stuff, philosophized in his execrably titled You Can't Go Home Again that "A man learns a great deal about life from writing and publishing a book."

He can say that again. . . and again.

(I'll always love Wolfe, who meant a great deal to me when I was younger, but one of my favorite stories about the logorrheic author is that he prefaced the manuscript that became Look Homeward, Angel with an assurance that "I do not believe the writing to be wordy, prolix, or redundant.")

March 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the simultaneous launching of the Iraq War and my memoirish tale of going home again (and what I found there), Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette.

I guess there just wasn't enough space in the American attention span to accommodate both these events, so despite the best efforts of the good folks at Henry Holt, shock and awe hogged all the headlines. Those bastards Bush and Cheney - what infernal timing they have!

I did, however, learn a bit about life from that experience.

Honesty is not just the best but the only policy for a writer. As Thoreau counseled, "Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe." Given that this book's subject was my hometown of Batavia, New York, there was no way to be honest without bruising feelings. To have been cautious or solicitous would have caused severe anemia and crashing boredom.

A month or so before publication I came down with the usual auctorial premonitions of disaster. There was a good deal of anticipation around town surrounding publication, to which my reaction was "Holy Crow - people here are actually going to read this." What, I wondered, was the modern equivalent of being run out of town on a rail?

For in Dispatches, I treated with wit (half-wit, if you don't like it) and gleeful scatter-sprayed invective the ethno-religious conflicts that once rived - and, in a way, fortified - my town. As a typical American mongrel, with mixed bloodlines and a shambling sympathy for all sides of the American divide, I claimed an exemption from oppressive sensitivity codes. I wrote about the faded WASP ruling class from the point of view of the once déclassé Italian and Irish Catholics, and I wrote about the latter from the p. …

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