Friday, September 07, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #250: Dixie Road by Labiano and Dufaux

I don't want to point and laugh. I don't think we're at that level, anyway. But, even if we were, that's cruel and unhelpful.

But there's always something unreal and twisted about historical fiction about someone else's history. Any historical fiction is a dark mirror, trying to understand how people in the past thought and felt and lived when we think and feel and live very differently. When it's looking backwards and across cultures as well, the mirror might as well be a stone -- that's how dark it is.

Dixie Road is historical fiction about the American South, probably mid-Depression, about women and families and race relations and unions and workers and bosses and corruption and the petty people with petty power in petty places. It's by two Frenchmen, credited here as Dufaux and Labiano. (I've seen first names for them in reviews online -- Jean and Hughes, respectively -- but those don't appear in the book.) They made this book in the late 1990s, a good sixty years after the world they're trying to depict and very far away from it.

I believe this is the first in a series, but I've only seen this one -- I had it as a digital review copy, sitting in a folder quietly for years until I pulled it out to look at it. (This NBM edition is copyright 2000; surely I didn't have it that long, did I? I hope not.)

Anyway, take that as read: this will be about as culturally accurate as, oh, let's say Frank Miller doing a medieval ronin. Doesn't mean it's good; doesn't mean it's bad. Means it's purely fiction, though.

For example, our main character has the far too on-the-nose name Dixie: she's the girl on the cover, fourteen and the daughter of a union-organizer mother and a missing ne'er-do-well father. Her best friend is a young black man who is three years older -- again, something that happens primarily in fiction by well-meaning people three generations later.

There is, of course, a fair bit of violence in Dixie Road, with the forces of the corrupt sheriff and goons hired by the horrible factory owner and gun-happy robbers and probably others I'm forgetting: this is a view of America out of gangster movies and Southern Gothics. It ends with Dixie hitting the road, as the title implies -- not alone, but I shouldn't spoil that.

It's all told in words a little clunkier than you'd hope, like it's an accurate translation of the French original but not as colloquial when turned into English. Joe Johnson did the translation, but I'm only assuming the French was smoother -- maybe the clumsy phrasing was from Dufaux's translation of outdated American idioms in the first place, and Johnson was just accurately turning it into English. Wherever it came in, Dixie Road is just that bit stiff and artificial.

Dixie Road looks good, and moves well, and tells a story with a lot of intrigue and action and sex appeal -- it's a fairly classic example of Eurocomics, and is aimed at adults in a way that the "mainstream" of US comics generally isn't interested in pursuing. I don't love it, because I think it's a pretty generic and second-hand example of that tradition -- but it's still a healthier and more interesting tradition than what we have from the Big Two.

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