cultural criticism

The 1950s: America on the Brink of Change

Diamond-T is about a lot of things.

diamondt-teaser-shelby1

One of those things is how the status quo of the time couldn’t remain standing. 1957 was a great year in a great decade for Americans. Many Americans,  but not all.

Already, cracks in the facade were beginning to show. And in the decade that followed, they’d explode full-force.

Kinda like a truck going off a bridge and crashing into a train — if you know what I mean.

Anyway, of the many challenges my protagonist Nick Pente faces, one of the most remarkable is racism. Not against him, really. Although he’s ethnically Greek, it never stopped him from getting a table in a restaurant. No — the challenge to Nick shows through in what he allows himself to dream about. He knows deep-down that the idyllic life in suburban Chicago he desires just isn’t going to work with him married to a Hopi maiden.

And then there’s the case of Shelby Howell. He inspires Nick to consider what might be in the trailer he’s been towing up and down Route 66. He’d never paused to think about the load he was carrying: His baggage.

Throughout the story there are hints of things that were taken for granted in a time when race and ethnicity were very real things. For many people alive at the time, it was all they needed to form a judgment. Readers from younger generations might be shocked. But then, maybe not.

Anyway, pick up your copy of Eye of the Diamond-T today and see what I mean. There’s a lot of meaning folded into Nick’s last journey down Route 66.

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Inspiration: Paul Fussell on War

One major inspiration for Diamond-T came from the works of Paul Fussell. Among other things, my book was to be — at least in spots — a war novel.

Fussell

But not an ordinary war novel:

 I’ve been an enemy for years of the concept of the “Good War” and of all the sentimentalizing that’s done by people who didn’t fight it or who profited from it in one way or another. We all profited, but at what a cost.

I’ve been a fan of the writings of Paul Fussell since reading The Great War and Modern Memory in college. It laid out for me — for the first time — the origins of what I had come to know as the “modern world.” At some point in the past a cynical edge had come over society. The stark futility of World War One had set the course for the Europe’s descent into skepticism and irony, though that particular wave didn’t hit America until Vietnam.

“Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

The hero of my story is in a rush to join up with the infantry in 1944, feeling that it held the ability to wash him of his shame and personal doubts from his horrible childhood. It ends up only intensifying both. Fussell’s view of war inspired Nick Pente’s experience, but it was his attribution of the great social changes brought by mechanized large-scale combat that really formed my vision of what the book was to be about. Nick is both a hero and a victim. The way he’s seen most depends on the cultural attitudes of the reader.

“I would read accounts of so-called battles I had been in, and they had no relation whatever to what had happened. So I began to perceive that anything written was fiction to various degrees. The whole subject– the difference between actuality and representation–was an interesting one. And that’s what brought me to literature in the first place.”

Paul Fussell died in 2012 after a long and prolific career as an English professor and an infantry lieutenant. His contributions to our understandings of war and civilization live on.