"I recently read a novel that I highly recommend: For the Love of Robert E. Lee
, by M. A. Harper. Harper, according to the dust jacket, 'is the daughter of a South Carolina farmer. After 19 years in New Orleans, she recently returned to her family seat in Columbia.' The narrator of this novel, which was published in 1992 by the Soho Press of New York, is a spunky South Carolina eighth-grade girl named Garnet Laney, who falls in love, in 1963, with a portrait of Lee. Her school has recently been integrated. There are racial incidents, in which some of her white classmates behave badly. In these matters she is a two-fisted liberal—at one point she bloodies the nose of a bad white boy. Meanwhile, she is drifting back into the past to imagine—on plausible historical grounds—a love life for poor, unhappily married, incredibly handsome Marse Robert.
"The only teacher who comes close to understanding Garnet is her debate team coach, Mr. Damadian, an Armenian-American Peace Corps veteran from Queens, New York. 'I really like you people,' Damadian tells her. 'Frankly I expected Tobacco Road
. Weekly lynchings. I don't know. But you guys aren't as vicious as you're cracked up to be.'
"Damadian means well. He and Garnet genuinely like each other. And here he is being sort of tongue-in-cheek, of course. But he is also presuming to express a measure of surprise that white Southerners don't have a visible mark of Cain. Here is Garnet's reaction: I couldn't look at him. I felt my cheeks hot, thinking: I hate this place but It's my home. It's for me to criticize. Don't discuss it in front of me like this with no idea that I might want to contradict you. I won't contradict you, but I am embarrassed by your assumption, Mr. Damadian.
"Yes. There was in fact a TV series about Southerners of that period, I'll Fly Away
, which I'm told was pretty good but for some reason I never watched it. If For the Love of Robert E. Lee
were turned into a series, by the right people, that I would watch."
–Roy Blount Jr., The Oxford American