Friday, August 19, 2016
Review of Pleasantville by Attica Locke (2015, Serpent’s Tail)
Pleasantville is a political and legal thriller set in Houston in 1996. As well as telling a complex tale of murder and political and community skulduggery, Locke also provides insightful social commentary on communities in transition, election campaigning, environmental racism and long-term legal battles. The wider context is the Clinton years and the Republican long-term strategy for a run on the White House in 2000. The story has many interlocking moving parts that all swirl around the Hathorne family and Jay Porter. The Hathorne’s helped found Pleasantville, a planned black community, and Axel is running to be the city’s first black mayor. Porter is a single father, activist and environmental lawyer who has been seeking damages for local residents from contamination. While there are a number of subplots, the hook of the story is the disappearance and murder of a young female campaign volunteer and how her death is used politically and personally. Given the various threads, the number of characters and the social and political commentary it’s an ambitious tale. Overall, it mostly delivers on this ambition. At the start there is a lot of moving pieces into place and introducing characters and threads that dulls the pace and demands concentration, but as the story progresses the intrigue, tension and pace increases, and Locke makes some interesting observations about racial and environmental issues and local/national US politics.