It took a little while, but some folks in town have now read Scotland–mostly in paperback form. (I made a paperback–more on that in a minute.) The reviews are mixed. Russell Perry seemed to like it fine. My farmer friend thought it made a nice read, although he wished I hadn’t repeated the rumor about the pastor. He was probably right about that. My truck driver friend also liked it, expressed admiration for my finding so many words. The former first selectman and the current town clerk are evidently irate (I have that second hand, although the FFS was decidedly cold to me on the phone the other day), and Bud, so I hear, went ballistic about the pastor rumor thing.
Oddly, I don’t seem to mind any of this. Maybe I’m just getting old. It’s not that I don’t care–I feel a little trepidatious whenever I venture out these days, and I really do regret the remark about the pastor. It was unnecessary, just one of those things you write because it is a nice detail, but overlook that there are real people involved. But really I can see why people would be upset, even if I think I tried hard not to be mean and to see things from their point of view. It’s hard to find yourself written about even when you know it is coming, and these people did not. You lose control over your identity; it’s a violation of privacy, or so it feels. Of course, it really isn’t, especially when the events being depicted happened in public, and on the public record, but still.
Only one citizen has had the moxie to confront me directly. That would be Pete the Farrier, who started his comments in the public discussion section of our last zoning commission meeting by objecting to my calling him that. It seems that my leaving out last names (or sometimes names entirely) was disrespectful. I didn’t fully understand that, but it seemed to have something to do with credentials. Wendy is a captain and her husband is a veterinarian, he told the commission. It didn’t quite make sense, but I think the overall point is that I’d given people short shrift. He also said that it was not right for me to have profited off my involvement in this matter, or to be simultaneously running the zoning commission and writing about it. Here again, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but I think what he was saying was that it isn’t fair to people who come before the commission to think that in addition to my power to determine the fate of their application or request, I might write about them.
That’s probably a fair objection, although I don’t think it rises to the level of a conflict of interest over which I ought to resign or be deposed as chair. The commission agreed with me–as it happened, Pete’s comment came just before we elected our board of officers for the upcoming year, and I was re-elected without opposition. But I can’t say I entirely disagree with him. I suspect that people will always associate me now not only with the sex offenders (and I hear they are calling the Reliance House home “Greenie’s Sex House,” which I think is hilarious) but also with another betrayal: the one that inevitably follows the journalist’s seduction.
I did have a chance to talk to Pete after the meeting. He clarified one thing: the big objection seems to be that “you made us sound like ignorant country bumpkins, like hicks from the sticks.” To which the obvious response is something about what you do when the shoe fits. I didn’t say that, however, because it doesn’t seem quite adequate. I mean, I know I didn’t come out and call anyone a hick, and my tone was far from ridiculing. I tried to uphold everyone’s dignity, which in my world means seeing it from their point of view. But sometimes that doesn’t matter. Even if you’ve made racism comprehensible, or attributed narrow-mindedness to legitimate fears, or chalked up scapegoating to ancient and perhaps immutable human tendencies, and even if you’ve resisted self-righteousness or even moral certainty, still you’ve shown people at less than their best and frozen that version of them in amber. I wouldn’t mind if some of them examined themselves and decided to try to be different, but that wasn’t my intention either. My intention was to tell a story.
There is something heartless about writing, and it’s really beyond apology. I’m not crazy about Janet Malcolm, but she sure had this right. And it may be that living in a small town and writing about it is one of those have-it-both-ways dilemmas. You know, the kind that test character.
Our conversation lasted for about a half hour. We talked about the problem with sex offenders, and somehow got on the topic of the closing of the mental hospitals. He told me about what one of the men at the house had done to get arrested, and it sounded really gruesome. We talked about small town life. We complained about our high taxes. I told him that the only thing he’d done or said that really bothered me was calling me a liar in front of so many of my fellow citizens. I told him that people respect him, they listen to him, and that he needed to be careful about what he said in public. (Fine advice from the guy who repeated the rumor about the pastor.) We shook hands and went home.
Anyway, the story continues. It will always continue. Whether or not the paperback ends up in the library is an interesting question. It probably should, but I don’t want to put the librarian in that position.