Badpuppy Gay Today
Monday, 3 February, 1997
Florence King, one must suspect, may well be--in spite of her outrageous literary personae-- a shy person. Her face, sweet-natured and round, appears on the cover of a recent collection celebrating over 20 years of her writing. (The Florence King Reader, St. Martins Griffin, 1996). But Ms. King's a loner and proudly so, living safely apart from her die-hard fans who abound not only in her native southern environs but in any locale where uncontrollable belly laughs are the rule.
Ms. King advertises herself as a misanthrope--that is a human being who doesn't like human beings. In her case, in contrast to wanna-be funny folks like Rush Limbaugh, she is, actually, an astute student of human nature, amazingly aware of funny foibles and facetious faults. She draws stereotypes of various human classes not to be believed. In fact, it is hard to believe, almost, that she doesn't like her species since, obviously, she seems to have derived and given so much pleasure describing it. "Why do you hate people?" asked an interviewer of Ms. King. "Who else is there to hate?" she asked in return.
Conservative pundit George Will praises King, saying that if the great American journalist, H.L. Mencken were alive today, he would be her. Mr.Will may have chuckled himself silly (or sillier) reading her long-time column in the National Review, "The Misanthrope's Corner," or, perhaps, her latest book, With Charity Toward None. P.J. O'Rourke, the male-half of the only duo of truly comedic Republican-Libertarian writers alive, says she's made a career out of hating people, and yet he sings her praises too. He ought to, because she's significantly funnier than he. A reviewer in the Fort Worth Star Telegram describes typical reactions to her work as "howling, tears streaming, gasping for breath, rolling on the bed and screeching loud enough to scare the dogs."
Among the books in which she's brilliantly and blithely stereotyped most every significant group in America, are Southern Ladies and Gentleman (1975), WASP, Where Is Thy Sting? (1977), HE: An Irreverent Look at the American Male, (1978), When Sisterhood Was in Flower (1982), Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985), Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye (1989), Lump It or Leave It (1990), and the aforementioned With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy (1992).
Southern Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems, firmly established Florence King's reputation not only as a humorist but as a perceiver. Her childhood in the northwest corner of the nation's capital. is described therein-- life with a very southern granny, a southern mother, and a somewhat alienated but bemused Englishman for a father. Clearly, her dad offered her sneaky, insightful asides as she grew into adulthood. He explained outbreaks of hysterics and imbecilities characterizing those southern-lady stereotypes upon which King has so expertly drawn.
As for the southern Good Ole Boy types that abound in her work, they're unblemished in their purity. An excursion into Johnny's Cash and Carry Tavern, she writes, "is an experience in living sociology that should not be missed." The reader is led into the tavern where a coterie of good ole boys are discussing their jailed fellow townsman, Shirley Lee Crouch.
Conversation goes like this: "Waal, s'a cryin' shame if you ask me, the way they got ole Shirley down in the jailhouse. Shirley ain't so bad. He couldn't help it 'bout what happened. It wuz his property, and evrabody in town knows he got that big ole Army surplus bazooka. They shoulda had better sense than to trespass. 'Sides, they wuz comin' to get a piece o Tilly Mae's tail, so it wuz really her fault. He wouldna been lickered up if it hadna been fer her and the way she done him. That gal dern near broke his heart handin' it out lak she done, to anybody what asked fer it. Just as well he blew her head off too, 'cause she wern't no daggone good nohow. But what beats me is the way they's fussin' 'bout him settin' fire to the house. It wuz his house, and sides, the county already condemned it and was gonna tear it down anyways. Looks to me lak Shirley saved 'em a heap of trouble. He couldn't help it if the wind blew the flames over to the oil company. Can't blame a man for the way the wind blows. Nope. Shirley's aw-right, he's a Good Ole Boy."
Ms. King then explains to her readers that Shirley's buddies have thus cleared him of mass murder and arson and pictured him as nothing more than "a put-upon cuckold thwarted by the vagaries of the weather."
On one hand, Florence King seems much the feminist, though her parodies of organized feminist movement folk can be unsparing. In one such romp, When Sisterhood Was In Flower, she returns us to the early 70's with mentions of such real-life organizations as WITCH (The Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.), a group that once let white mice loose at the New York Bridal Fair. On TV she listens to radical feminists discuss Disarming Rapists: The Surgical Solution. Her rollicking fictional portrait of a roomie, Polly Bradshaw, is, one feels in reading, a true-life character who is, in fact, though well-meaning, is also an excessive anal retentive.
King talks of being invited to a lesbian-feminist conference, one where vegetarians, goddess worshippers, women's music composers, and others gathered. She sent conference organizers a brief note of regret: "Its time you knew that I'm a Republican."
King's editor, Calvert Morgan, wonders if it may be said of her that she's a study in contradictions. If so, Republican or no, she seems an unlikely candidate for attending gay/lesbian Log Cabin conferences too. To some, no doubt, her Republican- Libertarianism may be a put-off. But it becomes difficult to categorize and dismiss her with snap phrases. Walt Whitman spoke for her, no doubt, when he said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."