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A few words about the magnificent South...

Nothing conjures an image quite like the words, the South. It's not a direction as much as it is a place, one that possesses...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Long Day at the End of the World: Book Review

Brent Hendricks' story of desecration and revelation in the Appalachian South is a true account, and a pilgrimage, of the horrific discovery in 2002 of 339 decomposing bodies (only 226 of these were identified) at Tri-State Crematory, a place in rural Georgia where Hendricks' father had been sent for cremation.

Brent Marsh, owner of the crematorium had not cremated bodies for more than five years. Instead, he dumped the bodies where he could on his property and filled urns with concrete dust. Is anyone else thinking of Ian McEwan's Cement Garden? [insert chills here]

Long Day at the End of the World is less than 200 pages, but it is not an easy read. Though it certainly could be read in one setting, I found myself lingering on Hendricks' poetic comparisons, in which he uses Rilke poems, ghost flowers, Faulkner's End of Man address, Greek Mythology, the Book of Revelation, a shit fairy and alchemy to try and understand the largest mass desecration in American History. I don't think it's possible to read this book and not see the images Hendricks' words conjure like the fused bodies molded together among Christmas decorations in a shed behind the crematorium or the image of Brent Marsh's wedding, which took place on the Marsh lake where just a short distance away, lay the rotting corpses of those he dumped instead of cremating. This is beyond disturbing on so many levels. It's so sociopathic that I cannot even make a decent joke. Except for maybe this one. Was their wedding song Lynyrd Skynyrd's THAT SMELL? Just morbidly curious.

Marsh first claimed that the cremation oven or "retort" was broken but this proved false. (Clearly a false retort. Sorry, it had to be said.) It was indicated later that Marsh might have been a victim of mercury toxicity due to the faulty ventilation system at the crematorium. This means, it is suspected that Marsh became a hoarder of rotting corpses because he inhaled too many fumes from burnt dental fillings. Maybe these fumes affected the entire family and this is why they couldn't smell decomposing flesh during the wedding festivities? Clearly, it must have affected their sight as well. Okay, enough with the Marsh bashing. Back to the pilgrimage. 

It's obvious that Hendricks had a troubled relationship with his father and that throughout his journey to Noble, Georgia (Noble, really? Oh the irony) and the remains of the Tri-State Crematorium, he struggles for answers. He "measures the future by measuring the past." He continually reflects on the Oklahoma farm where his father lived so many years before it was flooded by the government to become Oologah Lake, a Cherokee word for dark cloud. In his dreams, the flooding becomes biblical like the Great Flood where he envisions his father living in this underwater world of bloated cows and sunken rooms. 
The 2011 movie,  Sahkanaga,  is based on the Tri-State tragedy. Written and directed by John Henry Summerour, the movie's cast consists of locals, many of which had a personal connection to the desecration. You can view details atwww.sahkanaga.com . The movie is on my list to review.

There is sadness, remorse, laughter and irony in A Long Day at the End of the World. It comes specifically in the stories Hendricks relays about his mother who one day announced that she wanted to exhume his father who had at the time been buried after an unexpected death in a cemetery in a north Georgia resort community. She wanted his body cremated and shipped to her in Santa Fe so they could be scattered over the mountains together when the time came. Against the family's wishes (Hendricks and his sister), the mother exhumed the body, which was then taken to Tri-State where it laid stagnant and rotting in a coffin for five years, unbeknownst to anyone but Brent Marsh. 

The mother assumed the box she had received in the mail was her husband and for many years, she talked to a "box of nothing." She often recounted the story of the custom-made cowboy boots he'd bought for $800. His name was carved into the sole. Initially, there had been a fight over the cost of the boots, Mr. Hendricks being newly retired at the time. That these boots obviously gave him some sort of identity was an understatement. Because he had originally been embalmed, Mr. Hendricks was not a candidate for the DNA tracing used to identify the remains found at Tri-State. But, thankfully, he was prepared. The $800 pair of cowboy boots that caused such a problem in his marriage were the only thing not completely deteriorated in the coffin that was tossed on the Marsh's land, and because of this, Mr. Hendricks reclaimed his identity.

I will not forget these images. I will not forget this story. I will buy a pair of cowboy boots and carve my name in the sole. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Samuel Bleak: Film Review

Dustin Dugas Schuetter (Go Louisiana!) produced, directed and played the lead in this film, which I must make known, was pretty damn good. Yes, it's awkward at times and a little cheesy in areas (people love the cheese), but sometimes I give film and literature extra points when I can't guess the ending. I'm usually pretty good at this, but this one caught me totally off guard. I like that.

A mute vagabond, (I just love this word because it doesn't sound quite as dirty as drifter or gypsy, which both imply the need for a bath and a toe-nail trim) found living in the woods upsets the social balance of a small town that hasn't seen him in twenty years. Samuel Bleak's vagabond-ness can be overlooked because he is sort of hot in a gothic, backwoods, mentally unbalanced sort of way--even with the shoe polish sideburns.

As an eight-year-old, Bleak ran into the woods after the violent death of his mother (Pa, Pa, there's a fire in the barn?) who was one of those kooky writers that give us all a bad name. Bleak, though not interested in speaking, evidently types on his mother's old typewriter, which clearly wasn't damaged in the explosive fire that took her life. Hmmm...curious. And even more curious-er is that the ribbon still works after twenty years. I know. I know. People aren't supposed to think about these things in movies but I do. Considering how often I have to replace my ink cartridge in the printer, perhaps I should pull out the old Underwood. Maybe if I lick the ribbon, it will still work.

When Bleak is placed in a mental institution, he is visited by his father who comes across as a drunk redneck asshole. I hated him but changed my mind by the end of the film. (This almost never happens.) Dark, unexplainable things happen between Bleak and his psychiatrist, who is seemingly more unbalanced than he is, and though she lacks the sideburns, I did catch the ghost of a mid-life mustache lingering above her pearly whites.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A few words about the magnificent South...

Nothing conjures an image quite like the words, the South. It's not a direction as much as it is a place, one that possesses a separate distinction from the United States, much like an annexed country. This is one of the reasons the South has earned its own genre of literature known as Southern Gothic.

The South’s idea of gothic, derived from 18th century England, is concerned more with the internal complexities and moral fiber of a person rather than physical attributes associated with what we know in popular culture as the “goth.” It's no secret that the South is peopled with lost souls. Perhaps this is why Mr. McDaniels sent the devil to Georgia instead of Montana to steal one. That and because it gets so damn hot here, it's regularly confused with Hell.

Southern Gothic literature has in many ways defined the South. The two are so closely connected that it is difficult to differentiate between the imaginary characters of McCullers, Lee, Faulkner, Cormac, Welty, and O'Connor and the living breathing people of this vast demographic region. Fictional characters of the South are most often based on real people, but somewhere along the Mason Dixon Line, Southerners became identifiable by the characters that portray them.

It's no surprise that Southern authors lean toward realism rather than fantasy. Maybe this is because truth is often more outlandish and less believable than fiction. There is a magic to reality that can't always be dissected and defined, and yet, it's there in the Bundrens and the Compsons. It's there in Bailey and the Misfit. It's there in Atticus and Scout Finch and Boo Radley. John Grady Cole. Ignatius J. Reilly and Miss Trixie. Penn Cage, and the dismally enchanting Stella Kowalski. These are deeply flawed and often delusional characters who are isolated either by class or race and plagued by poverty and sometimes supernatural or inexplicable events. See, why I'm so fascinated?

By examining these fictional characters and the social burdens that encompass them, the real characters of the South might be better understood and appreciated. Who knows, you may even like us. But, you should know that we don't really give a damn either way though.