Thursday, June 13, 2019

What the Heck: "Bluebird, Bluebird" by Attica Locke

What the Heck: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke, 2017, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

What hell? Did I finish this the first time or not? I stopped listening to this several months ago for some unknown reason. I thought I never finished it so I restarted the entire thing. Then, when I get to the finish I recognize the ending. Maybe I grabbed the print version and finished it off? I don't freaking know.

Anyways. Locke was awarded one of the annual Big Author Awards. That is to say: Locke was awarded one of the Big Author Awards I actually pay attention to. Locke also called bullshit on the award that was going to Linda Fairstein. Locke reminded the world how Fairstein was a conductor during the railroading of the Central Park Five.

Everything is told POV of Darren.Matthews who is on leave from the Texas Rangers (police not baseball) and his marraige. He stepped into a case involving a family friend charged with murder of a local Aryan Brotherhood member. Darren is in serious jeopardy of losing his job after butting in. Darren's devotion to work and booze has him in trouble with his wife. Shortly after a grand jury appearance in his friend's case Darren gets a call from his high school pal, FBI Man. FBI Man says, "Darren, old buddy old pal, there are a couple murders in East Texas. A black man and a young white woman. Would you be willing to take a look? I need help with a career boost."

Well, Darren has been pushing the Rangers for years to pursue racial bias cases. Darren sees the danger in having people attacked, raped, murdered, etc. for being black. Darren's pushing has not worked. The Rangers see themselves as the experts they are and that they are immune from racial bias and treat all crime the same. Since Darren is black his supervisors have seen him as crusading and looking to upset things.

Darren and his bourbon head to the small town of Lark. Lark is a bump in the road. Lark has a roadside cafe that has catered to black travelers since the '60s ('50s?). Behind that cafe's swamp is found a murdered young white woman who leaves behind a son. Darren starts snooping - without police authority. Darren hears of the murder a few days previous of a middle age black guy from Chicago. Chicago Guy was a wealthy lawyer, what was he doing in Bumfuck, TX?

There are two murders. Personal clashes. Darren fighting his growing dependence on booze. Darren tending his bleeding heart over his marriage separation. Darren untangling Lark's complex and unspoken of family relationships among white and black and rich and poor.

Anyhoo. The entire novel is really all about rules and decorum.

  • There are local codes of conduct related to a person's age, wealth, skin color, etc. About what neighborhoods to enter. About what locals you defer to.
  • There are general small town codes: how you meet people or ask for something.  
  • There are Texas codes: deference to Rangers, black people are at a regular risk of murder, black men and white women do not chat.  
  • The importance of deference to older women. 
  • Law enforcement behavior: Rangers have to be nice to local cops, there written and unwritten rules to follow in investigations. EX: how to give grand jury testimony or request death reports. 
  • Darren's professional pursuit of of the Aryan Brotherhood (ABT)of Texas as a racial issue is rocking the boat at work.
  • Darren's interactions with Chicago Guy's widow crosses lines of professional and personal behavior.
  • How does a ABT member deal with the son he deeply loves actually being the son of a black guy his wife had an affair with?
  • Darren's devotion to friends when he lives Houston late at night to assist that family friend?
  • Darren's relationship with his mother. Darren was raised by his twin uncles and has a difficult and sparse relationship with his mother who is 16 years older than him. 
  • Friendships between black and white people. How far can you trust your white pal to help you?

1. I just read Locke did a bunch of script writing. I've not looked anything up.
2. Good narration.
3. Instead of a gun on the wall Locke gives us a guitar on a wall.
4. Possible SPOILER: Darren's wife is angry he will not quit the Rangers and finish law school in Houston. His job takes him all over the state and away from home, plus Rangers chase down dangerous people. As important seems to be her thoughts about social status and that being a lawyer is better. It's the freaking Texas Rangers. How is being a run-of-the-mill lawyer compete with that. Talk about freaking status? He's a Texas Fucking Ranger. You don't get much more elite.

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