Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chattanooga


I mentioned here before that the novel Chattanooga was on the way, thanks to son Dan who has rescued it from exile, and added his own touches. This is the novel that was enthusiastically received in France some years ago -- my wife and I were flown to Paris and treated royally -- but which I never published in the States for personal reasons. Those reasons have now receded.

Chattanooga is the tragic-comic story of a wildly dysfunctional multi-generational family, fraught with marital, sexual and racial tensions, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the summer of 1944.

The book is now available in paperback and as an e-book for the Kindle.

This is a rather different endeavor from my other books, certainly a far cry from the contemplative tone of Soul and Honey.

The novel is narrated in a half-dozen voices, one of whom is Roger, the bird-watching husband of Wanda. Roger is an engineer at the Volunteer Ordnance Works, just outside of Chattanooga, contriving explosives for the war. Here is a snippet: Roger is late for work, having stopped along the way to watch a pair of painted buntings.
What I missed at work were the first ten minutes of a bombing-run damage-assessment film of a night raid on Hamburg, the Brits dropping our 500-pounders from Lancasters. You could see a thousand cotton puffs springing up across the city as if by magic, until the entire field of view of the camera is tufted with cotton like a North Georgia bedspread. The guys in the screening room are shouting "Yahoo!" with each successive wave of detonations. And I'll admit there was a kind of beauty about the images on the film, as if the city were being blown kisses, smothered in kisses. The bombs fell from the belly of the plane into – well, like into another world, like there's no people down there, and all the time our slide rules were clicking in the dark screening room as we refined, one more time, the precise mix of high explosives and incendiaries that will cause maximum destruction to the German cities. Cotton puffs raced across the industrial districts, the dockyards, the old quarter, the suburbs. "Yahoo, yahoo!" the guys shouted. I was sick. I guess I kept thinking about what was happening under the cotton wool – the firestorm with temperatures of eighteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit, the asphalt of the streets ablaze, trees uprooted and flung through the air, automobiles whirled skyward. In tunnels beneath the city, tens of thousands of men, women, and children are suffocated as the air is sucked out of their refuges, then incinerated as superheated air rushes in to replace what has been drawn out. I know all of this, everyone in the room knows it, but we put it out of our minds. Or we try to put it out of our minds. There's a war to be won. The Nazis must be stopped. The world must be "made safe for democracy” and all that rubbish. Strangely, I found myself thinking of the birds – the birds down there in Hamburg's parks and suburbs. When the bombs fell I imagined thousands of birds going puff in the air like Chinese firecrackers – tiny explosions of flesh, little starbursts of singed feathers.