Eric Dezenhall's Novel Spinning Dixie features love, organized crime, covert government operations, politics, southern plantations, casino gambling, horseback riding, legends, Civil War re-enactors, Ivy Leaguers and a whole bunch of other seemingly disparate ingredients. The story is told through two parallel narratives separated by 25 years. The first story line takes place in 1980 when the main character Jonah Eastman is about 18 years old. The second story line is set in 2005 right as Jonah is being forced out of his job as a white-house spokesman. The process of jumping back and forth between these two storylines is surprisingly pleasant.
The book begins with what seemed to me a torrent of metaphor and similes. To my delight the use of these literary devices receded to a normal level soon into the book. A mysterious and beautiful young woman shows up outside the White House and beckons him back to events from 1980 that largely took place on the Southern Plantation of Rattle & Snap involving a beautiful Southern Belle.
Of the two storylines the one set in 1980 was much more fulfilling for me personally. The characters of that time we more fully developed, the setting was described in much better detail and the events were much more human. Perhaps I am most swayed by the story of a young man from the Jersey shore and his improbable love affair with a young lady from a Southern plantation with a storied past.
The storyline from 2005 is stuffed full of action, plot twists, intrigue, etc, but in the end it seems a little bit less genuine than the parts of the story relating to the coming of age of Jonah.
Perhaps 2005 rings a bit less true to me due to the uneasy mix of fiction and real life. There is a fictitious President Truitt, but there are references to real events from the recent past such as the Bill Clinton presidency (and the Monica Lewinski affair). The mix never seems right, like a reference to the Band the White Stripes as a "British punk band" (they are actually from Detroit, and are more accurately described as a Garage Band). Is this reference just a mistake or is it meant to be a blend of fiction with current events? If so, why does the author choose to select a song that they actually do sing ("I want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart")? There are other troubling questions that popped into my mind while reading this story, like "isn't the Governor the one who calls in the National Guard?" I was also caused to wonder to myself, "When did Civil War re-enactors come to be such a force to be reckoned with?" And I still don't know whether or not the concise rehashing of most of the government intrigue plot-line on page 305 was an insult to my intelligence as "the reader" or not!
Now of course this is fiction, so the author does not intend us to accept everything as fact, but the events of the storyline in 2005 were much harder for me to accept, without a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. The events of 1980 on the other hand were much easier to accept at face value.
In the end, I enjoyed to book as a whole, although, I must say that I am glad that the closing scene of the book takes place in 1980. I appreciate that gesture from the author and take it as an acknowledgement from Eric Dezenhall that the 1980 storyline is more compelling.
Final analysis: An entertaining and relaxing read. Great to read over a vacation for example (I read this over winter vacation.)
Final Grade: As much as I hated split grades in college, I still have to give Spinning Dixie an A-/B+.
by Cameron Hatch
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