A good and thought-provoking review to match a good and thought-provoking book. Personally I enjoyed the didactic, excoriating parts of the novel. They were refreshingly candid, equal parts factual and biased, the product of a perspective tempered by the violence underlying the American condition. They are both unfair to a degree and completely justified; both extreme and true.
Most of all, they were and are the opinions of an author employing a savage setting to tell a story on the wild side of the wild side of American history, giving us a glimpse of the psyche that arose from it, and which underscores a large part of America. To call the book didactic and dismiss its commentary-driven passages is to dismiss reality, at least parts of it.
Is The Underground Railroad the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the only truth there is? No, it isn’t. But it’s the truth according to a substantial portion of the world, and while that doesn’t account for everything, it counts for something — for a lot, in fact. If a significant part of America views the subject matter this way, or relates to the narrator’s voice and the narrative style, one has to acknowledge this. To understand the problem — and move past it — one has to take this book into consideration.
In other words, the didactic parts of The Underground Railroad serve the book well, and, as far as I was concerned, gave the story its teeth. I happen to enjoy well-written, ravishing polemics on account of the insight they provide, their emotional truth, and this book’s rhetoric was particularly sharp. Both liability and asset, said rhetoric is a paradox that underscores the nature of this enticing tale. Much like the America we know, it works as a living, breathing, hard-to-reconcile contradiction about which there will be many truths and opinions over time.
Read this book, as well as the review (see below), and see for yourselves.
From your frustratingly discerning Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
For the National Review article. click here:
For an excerpt from The Underground Railroad, click here: