My cousin A. called me last night! I haven’t talked to her in way too long, but it was good to hear from her. I need to be better about reaching out to people. I have a phone. It works to call out. But even with my brother, I usually talk to him when he calls me. That’s no good.
Anyway, our discussion ended up helping me kind of get at something about Lee, in the book, that I’ve not really been probably doing a good job of getting at. And it’s, I think, another reason the end of the book feels a little… ugh…
See, here’s the thing about Lee. He comes from what we have to presume is a family of okay people, because everybody married an Overton at some point and uniformly, if they married into the Overtons, they named their kids after that side of the family. I’m not saying there might not have been individual fuckers. I’m sure there were, but there is a line between “known” and “notorious.”
I’m not going to sing the high praises of the Overtons of real life, because I don’t know, but within the context of the book, the Overtons, in general, were good people. Martha Overton Allen made sure her boys always included their cousin Ben in their adventures, because he didn’t have any brothers. The Baxters were thrilled when Nancy became engaged to Robert Overton. And Sue even tells us that she felt fondly toward Lee’s mom. And Lee married Sue’s cousin, not a match that would have been made if the families had any real reason to think that Lee was a fucker–not just because Henrietta’s family wouldn’t do that to her, but because Lee’s family wouldn’t want to risk pissing off their neighbors.
But as A. and I were talking, I realized that, though the branches of large families are a lot alike–I think you can see a lot of our family, for instance, going through similar things that just play out slightly differently–people are their own people. You can be going through the same things, hear the same life lessons from the same people, and still come away with really different takes.
I think the Overtons, in my book, were the kinds of people who enjoyed their prominence and felt that remaining prominent was important, because it allowed for them to make the biggest impact on their community. Let’s call it an altruistic greed.
But Lee gets born into this family, learns these same lessons, and he takes from it that he is a person who enjoys his prominence, because it allows him to have a huge impact on his community, which will allow him to remain prominent. We might call this a kind of greedy altruism.
They’re the same values. You can look at Lee and say “Yep, he shares those things with other Overtons.” But the end goal is very different. I’m not even saying those are necessarily good or bad values. They’re just the kinds of values a prominent Nashville family in this era might have.
But switching the emphasis from “we’re working to shape this community (or in the Overtons’ case, this state)” to “I want to keep my position” does really change things. One lets you decide to muck about in the wilderness where it’s humid and miserable founding Memphis. The other sends you to the enviable comfort of the 21st century where you become angrier, crazier, and lonelier.
I’ve got to get some of that into the book. I need to flesh out Lee and that will help the ending.
Ha, I may need to call A. up regularly and talk about shit, because it really unblocks some things about my writing.