What I felt when I picked up Rod Dreher’s new book was, simply, dread. From the dust jacket, I knew it dealt with his sister’s untimely death from cancer. If it was written well, it would rip apart my old wounds — wounds inflicted by seeing too much premature death in too short a time. If it wasn’t, I had another kind of dread — that of voyeuristically reading about someone else’s pain against the backdrop of an excessively idealized small southern town.
There is a genre of conservative writing and thought that takes rural America and elevates it, drains it of the brokenness that plagues the rest of our nation, and turns it into an unrecognizable Disneyland of simple folks just doin’ good. But I know better. I grew up in a small southern town, and — like Dreher — have returned to the South after years of northeastern wanderings, moving from New York to upstate New York and then to Philadelphia before settling in my family’s longtime home town of Columbia, Tenn. (perhaps better known as the “Mule Capital of the World”). I love my town, and the people in it, but they are people, and people are fallen.