I hate the term “politically correct.” Let’s just get that out of the way. I think the idea of respecting people’s humanity as they want it to be respected is important. When the vast majority of a marginalized group say they don’t want to be addressed with a certain word or in a certain way, making the decision to listen to them is now the downfall of western civilization. Those of us who don’t share a racial, gender, body- or gender-oriented experience as someone else would do just as well to be quiet and listen.
I lift this up because many of the reviews of this book and other Hap and Leonard novels flaunt their pride at how these are “not pc” with no other substantive opinion or nuanced take as to how they handle racial dynamics. Apparently, being “not pc” explains it all.
I think these books are actually more sensitive to the issue of racism than their “not pc” reviewers give them credit for. Lansdale’s created a fun “buddy cop” (they’re not actually cops) tandem in low wage rural Texas humps Hap and Leonard, the former a straight liberal white guy, the latter a conservative gay black guy. In this space, I often critique white writers who write black characters poorly. Often, they’re either gross stereotypes with bad dialogue (William Martin) or the writer is so sensitive as to make them barely human (Aaron Sorkin).
Lansdale comes close to striking the responsible middle with Leonard. There’s a strongly subversive take by making him both a gay man and undeniably masculine. He doesn’t treat the character as a cause or a cypher or an avatar for patronizing white liberalism. He feels like a fully formed human being with a real personality, real issues, and real feelings. I appreciate it.
At the same time, while I know there are plenty of black people who are conservative, there are certain exchanges he has with Hap that make him seem like a foil more than anything. Their typical banter consists of competing worldviews: people are victims of the circumstances (Hap) versus people need to make the most of their own circumstances (Leonard). Leonard is frequently arguing that black people should do better; he would be your couch-surfing FOX-watching white uncle’s best friend. Coupled with the racially-tinged banter between the two, good natured though it may intend…and yeah, some of those scenes don’t sit right with me, even if I think Lansdale does a lot right by Leonard.
And when it comes to black women. Yeesh.
This is still a really good book. Lansdale writes with the kind of sparse prose I like; his stories are so readable. The mystery didn’t do much for me but I appreciated the urgency behind it. This functions best as a fun hangout novel with a mystery tacked on. I’m fine with that. I like hanging out with these guys. It easily earned its 4 stars. But I think Lansdale can do better and I’m hoping he improves in the future. Has nothing to do with “being pc” (grr) and everything to do with respecting your subjects more.