Year in Reading

A Year in Reading: Geoff Dyer

By posted at 3:00 pm on December 5, 2011 1

coverAt the risk of telling American readers something they already know all about, Fox Butterfield’s All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence is brilliant and devastating. First published in 1995 (and reissued by Vintage in 2008 ), it begins with Butterfield’s reporting on a young prison inmate, Willie Bosket, who, in 1988, was tried for stabbing a prison guard. Bosket had committed a double murder when he was fifteen, and as Butterfield delves into his history he discovers that Bosket’s father had also been convicted for a double murder. And so he looks back at the lives of generations of the Bosket family, right back to emancipation, the Civil War, and slavery.

In Britain these days “respect” is the most debased word in the English language; each year numerous murders result from the notion that the perpetrators had been treated with insufficient respect by someone whom they promptly stabbed. The same thing has been going on in America where, I’m guessing, the verb “to diss” originated. Butterfield convincingly traces this ghettoized idea of respect to the white southern “honor” code – itself imported from the European aristocracy – which demanded satisfaction (in the form of duels) in the face of any slight. The narrative of this investigative genealogy is valuable in itself (even if there are moments when Butterfield seems in danger of being swayed by his own rhetoric) but it’s the close-up story of Willie and his father that makes the book so compelling: the constant, cliffhanging hope of the possibility of redemption matched by the attendant fear of something ever more dreadful about to be unleashed.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

The Millions' future depends on your support. Become a member today!

Share this article

More from the Millions

One Response to “A Year in Reading: Geoff Dyer”

  1. All God’s Children recommended on The Millions « Carol Mann Agency
    at 1:19 pm on December 8, 2011

    […] Family and the American Tradition of Violence in his Year in Reading piece for esteemed online rag The Millions. In Butterfield’s 1995 title, the story of Willie Bosket, who was imprisoned in 1978 for […]

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.

NEW COMMENTING RULE: Comments may be held for moderation and/or deleted. Whitelisted commenters will see their comments appear immediately. Don't be a jerk. We reserve the right to delete your comment or revoke commenting privileges for any reason we want.