Author: Betty J. Belanus
Another book that was given to me, this time by the author herself. Full disclosure: I interned under Belanus in the Fall of 2017 while completing my master’s capstone project. The book was a gift(?), thank you(?), clearing out my basement(?), that Belanus gives to all her interns. She hopes it helps us learn more about the field of folklore.
Just because I interned under Belanus, does not mean that I will go easy on the review. It also means that I won’t be extremely judgemental and harsh with my thoughts, opinions, and feelings. After all, this blog is about a sensory experience with the words on the pages and the leaves in my teacup. On that note, let us begin!
I only drank two flavours of tea throughout the entire book, a generic green tea and a caramel rooibos, but I did treat myself to an almond-flavoured latte from a local coffee shop just to see if it would add anything to the writing style. The latte was probably the most interesting thing about the entire experience. It had a full-bodied mouth-feel to it that left a coy after taste, not too strong but never lingering or bitter. I was really expecting great things from the teas and the latte, at least something to spice up the bland, trite language used in the book, but unfortunately nothing I did improved the sour taste left from this reading.
The book is told from the first person perspective of a male protagonist studying folklore in Tennessee. Given my limited interactions with southern hospitality and charm, I feel that Belanus captured it well within her writings, although the portrayal of “died-in-the-wool Yankee” was superficial at best. Her strongest asset is writing about folklore and how it permeates all aspects of a person’s life, whether they recognize it or not. For sure, she took artistic liberties with the folklore in the book, and she was drawing on her experience with fieldwork, but the remainder of the book was bland and boring. And apparently suffers from a lack of editing!
I have a few big complaints with this book, namely the fact that she simplifies all the minor characters to the point that I asked myself many times what was the point of that paragraph? For example, the protagonist, Rob Anderson, invites his “graduate school girlfriend” to come visit. Belanus reduces this character to a mere footnote within the book, and labels her as the ‘graduate school girlfriend’. Why? What was the point of saying graduate school girlfriend if you’re not going to use it to full advantage? The girlfriend is obviously educated and smart but was made out to be flaky and dull, and extremely judgemental about the ‘common folk’. Belanus could have used this character to develop deeper, philosophical questions about the folklore field, after all this girlfriend is an anthropology major which draws on many of the same teachings and rhetoric that folklore does. Also, is Belanus implying that those of us with Anthropology degrees won’t understand the folklore field?
Truthfully, for the first half of the book all I drank was green tea. A generic, no name brand of green tea. The blandness complimented the writing style. I didn’t feel any emotion one way or another for the characters, with the exception of one. Near the end of the book, a character only talked about in terms of having existed at an earlier point in time now comes on stage. I had already finished my almond latte and was rushing to finish the book so I didn’t track the sensory feeling too closely, but I’m mad! I’m so mad that Belanus bought into the trope of using rape to justify the murder of one character and the FBI man-hunt of another. Of all the literary tropes available, Belanus had to use this one! It’s been done to death (pun intended) so many times that people have become desensitized to rape. She had such a wealth of knowledge and examples to pull from, why use rape when the book didn’t need it? I will give her props, though, because it’s the only time that I felt a little bit of emotion for a character.
Would I recommend this book to anyone, let alone a budding folklorist? No, simply because the writing style is horrible. Granted this is her one and only book and she is a far cry ahead of me (yes, I would love to be a published author!), but her editors, some of who I’ve met in person and are well-respected published researchers, failed Belanus immensely. Case in point:
A coal truck was barreling down the hill. We waved our arms in desperation. The truck driver applied the brakes with a sickening squeal. I ran down to the truck and opened the passenger side, looking up at him hopefully. He rolled down the glass and called out over the roaring engine….
This is one book that I felt nothing for. I didn’t hate it, and I definitely didn’t love it. I was apathetic about it, which makes the tea selection great but disappointing as well. I wasted a really tantalizing caramel rooibos on something that was never going to be redeemed. Sigh, at least I can now understand and respect why she pushed me so hard during my internship with writing journal articles. She has obviously learned from her mistakes and doesn’t want anyone else to repeat them.
- Generic Green Tea, no name brand
- Caramel Rooibos, Steeped Tea
- Almond Joy Latte, local coffee shop creation