Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"Dogwood Blues": Subversive...how?

Shelly Senders's tenth novel Dogwood Blues is a book you most likely will not be able to actually read. Although the book is being published by the thousands as I type this review, and by a major publisher, the most likely place to find it will be the single copy in the Library of Congress. And that copy will most likely be purged by Independence Day. I've never seen nor heard of a suppression-censorship job done so quietly, so extensively since Simone Claque's Breakneck Earring was published in 1956. Breakneck was my first published book review, and go ahead and search for it, because you'll never find it.

Few, if any, will recall the events of the suppression censorship that swallowed Claque's writing, career, and life. Verily none can recall, or even find documents on Claque's arrest, deportation, and ultimate hanging in Buenos Aires; the sham trial, torture, and confession; the Águas de Março newsreel footage of 1975 and the thoroughly-debunked conspiracy that followed.

Suppression censorship is a dark shadow over American publishing, one that has been roundly ignored and hidden by historians, literati, and government alike. The case of Breakneck Earring was a watershed, however, demonstrating the fully totalitarian capabilities of the United States's federal government, if only over a very small, select slice of life. Indeed, so powerful is the Writ of Suppression and Censorship in the Lands, Waters, & Borders of The United States of America, as still-classified-but-discovered 1893 opinion of the American Supreme Court refers to it, that the most explosive text to fall under the writ's purview, Breakneck, still managed to stay under the radar of Soviet intelligence. Surely Breakneck could have incited riots in the States, and that's a bare minimum. Yet, fifty-one years after the event, I still cannot get my signed copy of Claque's novel from the FBI. Still too dangerous, or so they claim.

Senders's Dogwood is shaping up to be the new height of the Writ's power. A dubious honor to be sure, and I fear for Senders's person as well as her career. What is so bizarre about this already-bizarre situation is that Dogwood Blues has no appearance of being even remotely subversive. Yet the suppression-censorship machinery is working so efficiently that I cannot legally name the publisher. And compared to what I was told when my office was raided and my copy of Dogwood was confiscated last week, the threats I received back in '56 pale by comparison.

Dogwood Blues is a light, breezy — yet deeply sophisticated — novel about a young girl growing up in a Detroit suburb. Lexi Webber lives in a pleasant, comfortable two-story colonial on an acre of land her father purchased twenty years before, when the community was still farmland. Lexi's life is wholly ordinary; her parents are married, but sometimes have rough spots; her siblings are close, but with Norman Rockwell disagreements; she gets respectable grades and has friends, but gets some hassle in school popularity conflicts; &c. By all appearances, the novel should have no conflict, no plot, no story. Yet, it does.

When Lexi learns that her home hasn't been there forever, as she had implicitly assumed, her back yard takes on a whole new character. There is a significant patch of dogwood in the back yard, the center of which is actually a patch of clover. Lexi loves to spend her time there, especially now that her imagination has a new world to explore.

Lexi dreams of a fantasy world in her backyard, a gateway to a universe of her own creation. Long story short, she has an existential crisis when her imagination seems to be getting the best of her. But the crisis is subtle: hints of motion out of the corner of her eye, fleeting glimpses of magical beasts, her parents briefly showing showing their mystical selves.

Lexi confronts her parents and accuses them of being magicians from a magical world. This accusation comes after long, searching discussions with her two best friends Ben and Sarah, and she has steeled herself to be poo-pooed and dismissed. Her parents, actuaries we've come to learn, do not deny the accusations. Not at all.

Her parents' non-denial pulls the rug out from Lexi's feet. Having seen plenty of television and movies, and after consulting with her friends, she's ready and expecting her crisis to be merely imagination. But now she's left with the question her father asked: "How do you know we're not wizards?" To solve this riddle, she finds herself engaged in deeper and deeper explorations of knowing with the magical beasts around her, and her sense of reality further crumbles as she finds both possible realities increasingly improbable.

I must confess that Dogwood Blues is genuinely brilliant. I'm not an ignorant man. I'm often bored, and even insulted, by books or films that are praised for their depth and intelligence. Dogwood blew my mind. I've not experienced a book so powerful for fifty-one years, but unlike that other book, Dogwood is a playful exploration of a child's imagination or a deep study of what it means know; what it is not is subversive or seditious.

Whatever it is that has prompted the White House to exercise the Writ, the reason for the suppression censorship is beyond my imagination.

One hopes that some day Writ of Suppression and Censorship in the Lands, Waters, & Borders of The United States of America will be struck down by the Court or reversed by the Congress. One hopes that the Internet and the proliferation of encryption technology will provide deeper, much deeper information. One hopes that breathtaking novels like Breakneck Earring and Dogwood Blues will be allowed to enjoy the success they deserve.

Because that's what we deserve.

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