Good historical fiction is also good social history. That's one of the reasons that I use books like Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, a classic tale about the coming of colonialism to what is now Nigeria, in my teaching.
Monte Dutton has just published The Intangibles, an historical novel about the American South in the 1960s. It's good -- very good -- in every sense. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and when Monte asked me to blurb it, I jumped at the chance. Here's what I had to say:
The Intangibles transports readers back in time and into the lives of teens and adults in a small town on the verge of profound change. It's the late 1960s. All that was solid in the South is melting into air, and the people of Fairmont, South Carolina, find themselves coping with challenges created by forces that are more powerful than they ever expected. Our God-fearing hero, Frankie Hoskins, discovers the temptations of the flesh, girls, and teenage rebellion. At the same time, the sudden reality of racially integrated schools shifts the ground under his feet and those of everyone around him. (Continued below.)
Disorientation is the order of the day, but it's a joy to watch Monte Dutton's fundamentally good-hearted people muddle through as best they can. This is a serious tale told with humor that's often gentle, sometimes sly, and gut-bustingly raucous when it needs to be.
Just as importantly, the story rings true. The Intangibles captures both the tensions and the small triumphs of those difficult times. The people we meet along the way -- black and white -- remind us of ourselves and our neighbors, in all our complicated, infuriating, and lovable glory.
Dutton spins a great yarn. This one will sweep you along from beginning to end.
Ok. That reads too much like the blurb that it is. But I mean every word of it.
I'm going to guess that many of Monte's readers will be surprised to find themselves caring deeply about small town southerners, especially the players and coaches on the high school football team. They'll care because they'll recognize the struggles and victories, and because they'll see how the history of the era -- especially regarding race -- drove good people apart, while sometimes drawing them together.
There are plenty of light-hearted moments in the novel. But The Intangibles is ultimately a deeply serious work of fiction and, at its end, a profoundly moving one.