Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Parallels: "The Bottoms" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"


I've spent the past two days home sick with some really horrific cold/flu/high fever/horrible headache/body ache/cough/generally feeling like crap kind of thing.  

I hate being sick for obvious reasons, and I hate missing work for reasons too numerous to name.  However, one of the few positives is that I was pretty much confined to bed (I'm not a "lay in bed" kind of person ... when I choose bed over lounging on the couch or in the recliner, it means I really feel dreadful), which meant, of course, that I got to read.

Henry lent me The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale several weeks ago, and I'm ashamed to say that it's taken me this long to read, even though I liked it from the start.  Once I got a chance to dig in, though, despite it being in and out of fever-riddled sleep and Nyquil daze, I couldn't put it down. 

Especially when I started noting parallels to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, probably my most beloved book ever.  I was in English teacher ecstasy throughout, I tell you :-)

I know that To Kill a Mockingbird is both well-loved and widely read.  Lansdale, who is considered more of a "cult favorite", achieves masterpiece status in my mind with his very similar offering.

Both books ...

*  Explore the strong bonds of love that exist between siblings.
Interestingly, The Bottoms is narrated by "big brother" Harry Collins, who feels deeply the tremendous responsibility of keeping his younger sister, Tom (short for Thomasina) safe.  Makes me wonder how different Mockingbird would be if told from Jem's point of view ...

*  Take a contemporary reader into a world where blacks are treated horribly.
Perhaps because of Scout's tender age, the specific horrors of life as an African-American in Maycomb, Alabama aren't expounded upon in detail.

Lansdale pulls no punches in the small east Texas town portrayed in The Bottoms, with the KKK figuring prominently into the story, white doctors refusing to perform an autopsy on a brutally murdered black woman, tarring and feathering, and the lynching of an old black man who was very briefly considered a witness in the murder of a white woman.    

*  Force the protagonist (well, brother/sister team of protagonists, I suppose) to realize that the person-cum-monster that colored the nightmares of childhood are both more and less than what they appear to be on the surface (or in local legend)
Call him Boo Radley or the Goat Man, but this lesson is one that stays with a reader.

There are lots of other connections between the two (too many to list, actually, without being a total spoiler), but I just had to share how cool I found it that another book was able to, in some small way, address the very tough themes and issues brought up in what's arguably my favorite book ever.

I'd never seen it done before on such a grand scale, and I'd never really heard much of Joe R. Lansdale before Henry introduced me.

I figured it was  my responsibility to pay it forward.