Why is Fairy! A Cautionary Tale by Louisiana author Jerry Bolton such an important book to read? Answer: because few American authors dare to employ serious literary fiction to address so bluntly the issues and implications of race, religion, gender, and politics as Bolton does in this very provocative speculative write. How does he do what he does? Please keep reading.
In Playing in the Dark, her masterful meditation on “whiteness and the literary imagination,” Nobel laureate Toni Morrison takes a deep unwavering look at the absence and presence of Blacks in American literature written by Whites in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That presence, she found, was one most often marginalized to a point of token representation, or, transformed into a metaphor signifying psychological and political states of unrest. Following his own literary instincts, Jerry Bolton, white twentyfirst century author, completely reverses his literary forebears’ inclinations and gives African Americans center stage.
Fairy! fuses political intrigue, social theory, some rather spicy Louisiana erotic flavorings, and science fiction to construct what at its core is essentially a love story of exceptional caliber. The novel is set in the distant future after a second civil war has completely changed life in the United States as we know it in 2007. Yet this is not one more near-Armageddon vision of life in the potentially radioactive days of the future. Instead, the fall-out from the civil war in Fairy! is a political one that reverses the power structure and social order both as it exists to some degree at present and as it has existed in the past. What that means in these 303 pages is that the one-time 50 United States has been changed into four major territorial zones and been renamed African-America.
As the new name of the country implies, African-Americans in Fairy! managed to come out on top in the second civil war and, almost a century later, are the country’s ruling first class citizens. On the other hand, Whites become second class citizens to the extreme and suffer the kind of degradations and genocidal attacks that Blacks experienced in the United States of the Reconstruction and Jim Crow years (1870s to 1960s) when murders by lynching were commonplace and Blacks were denied equal civil rights. Rather than being referred to as Caucasians or Whites, they are referred to by the derogatory “Fairy,” an acronym that stands for “Fair-skinned and Immoral Rapscallion Yokels.” There’s humor in the phrase but a definite sting as well, a quality found throughout the novel.
Even more, Jews following the civil war in Fairy! have suffered a second, seemingly fatal and final, holocaust. The established order is neither a utopia nor a dystopia but a warped attempt at a theocracy slowly crumbling due to its abuses and corruption. A radical Islamic faction controls the government even though the majority of Blacks illegally worship as Christian Baptists. Whites are not allowed to formally worship at all. As if to add killing insult to mortal injury, a reality TV program called “History Revisited” frequently broadcasts the degradation of Whites as entertainment––again, in this, one can find actual parallels in the history of African Americans.
Because we are talking her about the future, technology has also continued march forward and denizens now get around in flying cars called Bandoliers. Given the inevitable discontent of one group and the overdose on power by another, fancy cars (very much like now) do nothing to quell the tensions and conflicts that begin to materialize. Groups of white activists and Blacks secretly working alongside them struggle to achieve a concept considered abhorrent: equality.
The kind of racial transmogrification that Bolton applies in Fairy! has been employed before (with differences of course) by writers such as James Sallis in his celebrated Lew Griffin Mystery series, and the Pulitzer-Prize winner William Styron in The Confessions of Nat Turner. French author Gene Genet accomplished a feat still somewhat astonishing in his play The Blacks, which also saw the rise of Blacks to power only to see them fall prey to human weakness before the same. Bolton takes his literary daring further than any of these.
In Fairy!, when the radically-inclined Margaret Wheatly Garver, black, dares to help a witless youth named Zane, white, escape the group pursuing him, her life and the destiny of her country changes forever. Zane turns out to be the younger brother of David, a red-headed giant of a man who is revered by his people as a prophet and the leader of their eventual deliverance. Margaret finds herself simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by David. He is intrigued by the courage she displays by returning his brother to Fairytown, and she is impressed by his physical stature as well as the place of honor he obviously holds among his people. Their story would have ended had Margaret simply left Zane with his brother, never to return to Fairytown, but return she does. On her second trip, she and David become lovers. However, on that same occasion, Fairytown suffers an historical massacre at the hands of the notorious Guard, one of the leaders of which is Margaret’s overzealous more politically correct black boyfriend Hakeem.
The relationship between Margaret and David is as erotically charged as it is politically dynamic. So intense is the yin and yang of their connection that Bolton originally titled this novel Margaret and David: A Love Story, which is a name it may bear again in a future edition. As dominant as Margaret and David are as the principle characters in Fairy! they are surrounded by an exceptional supporting cast. The drama they bring to the novel conceivably could produce a sequel or two of its own. Margaret’s parents, A’Lelia and Douglas, may be part of the ruling class’ upper crust but they are far from happy people, tortured by individual secret and political demons. The irony is all bitter when Margaret discovers that she has much more in common with both her parents and yet is far different from either of them than she ever guessed.
Likewise, David is surrounded by a group of people who in another era might have been described as “poor dumb rednecks” but in Fairy! take on the admirable identity of underground resistance fighters. Bolton has a gift for grounding his characters, whether black or white or male or female, in the heat of the psychological and historical moment. Some of those moments may prove too intense for some readers but getting through them to the next one is often what good literature, and life itself, is all about.
Fairy! would not be a particularly remarkable book if all it did was present readers with a scenario of “What if Blacks were the dominant rulers of the United States?” It just so happens, however, that Bolton is a master of plot twists and turns that take readers’ imaginations on a thrilling flight of controlled shock and revelation that makes Fairy! a very entertaining read. While David and Margaret’s relationship develops, political intrigue and political disasters increase as supporters of David’s movement and extremist Guard members head toward a fearful confrontation. Something unexpected occurs and, eventually, the “Fairies” achieve a level of victory that elevates Margaret and David to the status of celebrated revolutionaries. Their conquest, however, proves an ambiguous one that results in scenes that swing back and forth between the dramatic––such as when Margaret suffers a nervous breakdown––and the comic––as when David finds himself trying to ward off the sexual advances of his hostess at a fundraiser. In a way, the book has two endings, which will not be revealed here. One of them might be described as brutally true to life where the destinies of committed political activists are often concerned. The other might be considered the humane and appropriate treatment of an exceptional literary heroine.
First written in 1990, and revised several times Fairy! A Cautionary Tale is one of six novels by Bolton. Incredibly, none thus far have been published by a traditional mainstream publisher and Bolton has done his reading audience the great service of making several of the novels available himself. Fairy! is not a tale that every reader will embrace. Some African American readers in particular are likely to take offense at some of Bolton’s choice of similes, such as when he compares the dirt on one man’s feet to the color of Margaret’s face. It is, nonetheless, a book well worth reading in this 2007 day and age when so much of human life is defined by racial, religious, political, social, and economic divisions. As writer Mari (Baur) D’India observed in her review of the Fairy!, “it will most certainly make some readers angry, scare the hell out of others...” Author Sage Sweetwater, whose novels often examine society from the opposite end of the social history spectrum, hailed it as “a bold masterpiece.”
At the center of Bolton’s powerful book is a message we have heard before but one that fear, greed, ignorance, and other less noble human traits keep convincing us to forget: that as human beings, love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator. The more we ignore its potential to bring greater harmony and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.
by Aberjhani on His Bridge of Silver Wings