Monday, December 1, 2008

Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews

"...I'd spotted dozens of cats, one terrified-looking 'possum, and half a dozen homeless men and women stretched out on park benches and in the bushes in the squares...", a quote from "Blue Christmas" by Mary Kay Andrews, reminded me of seeing opossum' in Long Beach. Late night or early morning homeless wanderings, a noise would startle me and I was glad the animal was not a rat. Yet I would make a wide berth around an area I often saw them, not sure if they would attack and bite.

Another character lectures: "Not all these homeless people downtown are the quaint little hobos you seem to visualize...".

A third character scoffs: "She was probably a hotel thief before she became a homeless thief."

There are other homeless references in the book and will not share them all. The main character thinks "even a pigeon would not have braved this cold and rain." which makes her wonder: "Where d0 homeless people go in this kind of weather?" This also causes her to wonder where pigeons go in "gruesome" weather. Before I comment on that, the character knew: "It was too early for the shelters to open yet." I imagined real life Savannah must not have year round shelters and the character was speaking of Winter Shelters, but perhaps the author meant, not open for the evening.

"You belong in a shelter," a female cop barked at my homeless friend, Bear. She obviously did not know there was no shelter for him to go to at that hour in the afternoon. Thus I found it odd to read about a fiction character aware of homeless shelters' operating hours. If police in Long Beach are not aware that there were no 24 hour shelters in Long Beach, I doubt that most citizens are aware of the details of how homeless shelters work. I had read a lot on the subject of homelessness before becoming one myself, and I can say I was a bit clueless myself.

The last quote I want to share is "...BeBe warned. 'Weezie, these street people live that way because they want to, most of 'em. They're fiercely independent and they totally resent any efforts to change their lifestyle." It is true that most homeless people are "independent" and some "fiercely" so. If not, they would not survive street living.

I repeat this often: it is estimated that 1/3 of homeless people are military veterans. Many of those are war vets. Of course they resent being treated as a child; they are way adult. It is not that they choose a homeless lifestyle, but that life circumstances caused them to become homeless and they make the best of that. Elderly people often "totally resent any effort to change their lifestyle", such as when adult children want to place them in nursing homes. Younger children who's parents are divorcing often "totally resent" changes to their lifestyle.

"Blue Christmas" is not a novel about homeless people. Perhaps romance/mystery would categorize the fiction book. Yet even in fiction those stereotypical views of homeless people worked their way into the tale. Because homeless people are viewed as "less than" or "criminal" they are seen as in the wrong if they balk at strangers, who know little about their circumstances, "efforts to change their lifestyle."

1 comment:

Mary Kay Andrews said...

Hi. I'm the author of BLUE CHRISTMAS. And if you read the book closely, you'll find that Weezie sympathizes and even bonds with the nameless, homeless woman in the story. You'll also find honest, if unfortunate attitudes toward the homeless because I've lived and worked in downtown areas, like Atlanta and Savannah, where the homeless are a fact of life. I hope you won't confuse some characters' attitudes toward homelessness with the author's. thanks! Mary Kay Andrews