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December 2018, Week 4

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 		 [ A crime novel with a difference, this one centers on murders in
a vacation town that appear to take on racial significance going back
to World War Two and a segregated, elite military command.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 THE SOARING WRITER WHO LANDED ON HIS FEET  
[https://portside.org/2018-12-27/soaring-writer-who-landed-his-feet] 

 

 Michael Hirsch 
 December 21, 2018
New Politics
[http://newpol.org/content/soaring-writer-who-landed-his-feet] 

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 _ A crime novel with a difference, this one centers on murders in a
vacation town that appear to take on racial significance going back to
World War Two and a segregated, elite military command. _ 

 credit: Michael Grant / The Indypendent, 

 

“Race” as a biological category differentiating humans has been a
spurious and discredited marker for more than a century. From Franz
Boas’ early pioneering studies of the Inuit to Barbara Fields’
contemporary savaging of race-based ideology, we should all understand
that humans are one race, end of discussion!

Yet even those good souls most exorcized about the depredations of
narcissistic color consciousness or culturally based discriminations
are ensnared by racial categorizing. Those who organize to eradicate
the legacies of slavery, territorial conquest and the ensuing
dehumanization that consigns “strangers” to the category of a
biological or social “other” still must refer to the endemic brute
practice they oppose as “racism”. Tied to this, of course, is the
Right’s misplaced love for a mythical motherland if not an abusive
fatherland.

Like any ideology, “racism” persists long after the institutions
justifying it are dead—e.g., slavery in the American South, a policy
that benefitted not only the Dixie planter class but U.S. industry in
the North, or the lingering detritus of colonialism and neoliberal
adventures. Even in areas whose inhabitants were demonstrably
“white,” as in Ireland or Sardinia, capital made invidious claims
that the local working classes were demonstrably biologically
inferior, and whose allegedly louche productivity rates—outcomes of
nature, no less—were to blame for discriminatory wage and employment
discriminations, no matter how fudged the low-productivity statistics
were shown to be.  

Those fictive differences undergirding racially based hate survive
zombie-like as if they were a material force to be adopted or
resisted.  It becomes, as Marx metaphorically said of ideologies,
“sensuous activity,” in racism’s case a brute force in the
material world.  Yet even those who know that the idea of multiple
and variable human races is rubbish and militate against it are
perforce stuck with it.

The Man Who Fell From the Sky
[https://www.hardballpress.com/new-titles.html]
By Bill Fletcher Jr.
Hardball Press; 350 pages
Trade paperback:  $15.99
November 11, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-99913-5846

READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE MAN WHO FELL - CLICK HERE
[https://www.hardballpress.com/man-who-fell-excerpt.html]

Bill Fletcher Jr., whose novel is under review, is an appropriately
well-respected labor, civil rights and social justice activist, former
field services director for the American Federation of Government
Employees and author of the must-read _“They’re Bankrupting
Us!__”_ _And 20 Other Myths About Unions _(Beacon Press, 2012).
This and a host of his essays over the years are always on point. As
he wrote recently in a symposium on neoliberal capitalism, austerity
policy and labor in New York City:

“The political right has proven that they can advance the most
regressive of directions if/when they describe them in terms of
targeting ‘unworthy’ people of color and/or workers of
color…..By taking this tack, the Right is often able to win support
for efforts that run against the interests of the average white
working person.”

The activist-scholar-journalist is well placed to write meaningfully
on where class and the color line meet. He does so again in his newest
book, a highly readable and well-told crime novel. 

_The Man Who Fell From The Sky_, Fletcher’s first effort as a
novelist, does not disappoint. It shows him to be not just a sage
storyteller but no less than literature’s prized canary, warning of
dangers past and present. Granted, the canary analogy may be inexact.
Canaries are invaluable to working miners, warning of the presence of
toxic gas; they do so by dying. Fletcher is very much alive, but his
warning of the dangers of racism to its victims, its defenders and
perpetrators is salient and warning enough.

The 1970-based plot is vintage good stuff, with enough twists to keep
the reader guessing. The top draw mystery involves the ferreting out
of a murderer whose identity is suspiciously masked as either a maniac
or an avenging angel in exterminating a clutch of ex-U.S. World War
Two army airmen. The central figure investigating the deaths is David
Gomes, a journalist of Cape Verdean extraction and the Americanized
child of generations of immigrants of mixed African and European
(largely Portuguese) heritage, typical of the Islands’ diaspora
population who inhabited much of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island
coastlines both then and now.

That mixed heritage alone makes the story a cultural inquiry in
itself, with many Cape Verdeans ranging from white to dark skins even
within the same family, making identity in a racist society especially
complex. As Fletcher told a recent gathering of National Writers Union
members celebrating the book’s release, he strategically chose to
paint Gomes as a Cape Verdean descendent “because Cape Verdeans came
to the United States [starting in the early 1800s] not as slaves but
as Roman Catholics and subjects of the Portuguese Empire. That alone
led to real complicated relationships.”

Gomes, whose name the reporter is at pains to explain is not
pronounced like the Spanish “GO-mezz,” is also not the
scandal-mongering, smut-peddling news hack often painted in crime
novels, “B” movies and Trump tweets, but a decent, young general
assignment scribe for an understaffed, poorly financed Cape Cod
weekly. Fletcher catches the times nicely, with pithy references to
radical insurgencies, the television series _Mannix _and hurrahs for
Jimi Hendrix.  As the plot develops, Gomes comes to see that the
murders are likely linked, either tangentially or instrumentally, to
the army’s then-Jim Crow policy of restricting airmen’s positions
not only to men but to an elite of white men.

What makes the story work so well is not only its plot line but its
capture of time and place. There’s the bright and resourceful bank
teller who in any nonsexist society would be the bank manager. There
are the bumbling FBI agents, insisting that the murders are
linked—and on the basis of no evidence—to the Black Panther Party
and efforts to aid draft resistors fleeing to Canada. There’s the
evocation of Cape Cod as not only idyllic physically but a locus for
excellent, inexpensive cuisine. The final plot unraveling is worth the
reader’s wait.

Does Fletcher ever stumble? Not on the big questions, but scattered
and incrementally he does, though as an editing and not thematic
issue. In a story that spans a number of months, he has Gomes dining
out every day and never suffering from a less-than-excellent or
overpriced meal, a statistical impossibility even for glorious Cape
Cod circa 1970. There’s also Gomes’ facility for tracing one’s
regional origins based on accent alone. The reporter can catch a
“northern Midwest” or a New Jersey accent with ease, though how is
a mystery in itself.

Likewise, when the local veteran sheriff, counterintuitively a
confidant and best bud of Gomes—this at a time when police
nationwide were exterminating Black Panther militants—interviews a
manager of the business whose chief boss was the first of the several
men murdered, something in the telling goes awry. The sheriff hears
that the business was doing well, and that management was in
discussions to do “some work over in Bourne on the other side of the
Canal…” Presumably the sheriff would know on which side of the
canal is Bourne, especially when one of the two bridges crossing the
waterway is named for the town.

Big errors? Hardly! These peccadilloes aside, Fletcher’s latest is a
keeper. Enjoy this well-crafted, politically engaging thriller.

 

_Author Bill Fletcher Jr. is a longtime racial justice, labor and
international activist, scholar and author. A list of his books and
other publications appear on his website HERE
[http://billfletcherjr.com/blog/]. _

_[Essayist _Michael Hirsch_ is a New York City-based labor and
politics writer, an editorial board member of _New Politics_ and a
moderator for the _Portside_ news service. A shorter version of this
review appeared in the _Indypendent_ HERE
[https://indypendent.org/2018/12/bill-fletcher-tackles-identity-race-and-small-town-murder-with-the-man-who-fell-from-the-sky/]
as “Bill Fletcher Tackles Identity, Race and Small-Town Murder with
‘The Man Who Fell From the Sky.’”]_

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