I'm a public teen librarian heartily endorsing The Fog Machine. Susan Follett approached the teen writers group I facilitate with the hope that the teens would read The Fog Machine and meet with her for a discussion and feedback session. I posed this to the writers and they were eager to take it on. Seven of them read the book and four were able to attend the meeting with Susan. It all went splendidly. The teen writers loved the book, were very moved by the stories, and respected Susan very much as an author. They were glad for the opportunity to learn about the Jim Crow South and the Civil Rights Era in such an intimate, compelling, and holistic (in terms of the multiplicity of perspectives and the multidimensionality of the characters) way.
This book delighted me, too—from the beginning quote showing the pervasiveness of prejudice among all people (which also had a very potent effect on the teens) to the ending scene making connections between the racism of yore and some of its current forms. I also loved the intertwining, multi-generational stories. I loved the ways that the crucial role of Jews as allies in the Civil Rights Era is highlighted. Also that the white racists and other "villains" in the book aren't wholly demonized. Their behavior was shown for what it was—abusive, terrifying, and irrational, with the "worst" characters lost in their meanness, confusion, and lack of integrity. But Susan holds out for the restoration of humanity in several of her less likable characters. It is through significant relationships that the restorative work is done. It's a marvel that the mechanics of prejudice and its dissolution are so precisely and realistically depicted in terms of relationships. It's like seeing electrons move.
Religion and morality take a primary role in The Fog Machine in ways that they don't in much modern literature, but not at all in a pedantic or forced way. Of course, the role of religion in either degrading or enhancing morality was central in the Jim Crow South and Civil Rights, so featuring religion makes sense. But when was the last time (Iris Murdoch? Dostoevsky?) that you read a novel that took theology so seriously in terms of its ethical effects?
I also loved many of the author's stylistic strengths, with settings and other descriptive details, the complexity of her characters' emotional states, realistic sounding dialogue, and scores of lovely metaphors.
In the above ways I find The Fog Machine to be an enjoyable, humane, and uplifting work. As a white reader, I find it's always good to be reminded of the truth of what our country has undergone and the effects on us as human beings—the varieties of devastation that racial injustice foists on its targets, described here with so much individual detail; the corrosive effects on those of us who are agents of the systematic prejudice which we all too easily perpetuate on an individual basis; and the humanization that comes from standing up for what is right. The Fog Machine does this so well. I have never read a take on racism like this one. It's easy for white authors actually to perpetuate racism when they depict it, for instance having white characters engineer the liberation of non-white characters, as if the Civil Rights movement and its historical precedents weren't initiated by black people, or depicting black men as ne'er-do-wells. The Fog Machine is something different, and quite special.
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