I have high regard for Shelby Foote as a historian, particularly for his commentary on the Ken Burns film about the Civil War. His powers as a novelist, however, seem to be of considerably less magnitude. September September is a tale of a kidnapping plot coincident with the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957. A Keystone Kops gang–if three can be considered a gang–plan to snatch a Negro grade-schooler whose family has some money and hold him for ransom. The brains of the outfit–if these fools could be said to have brains–is a small time crook who fancies he can plot everything so minutely that virtually nothing can go wrong.
I don’t think I’m being much of a spoiler to say that very much goes wrong. His partners in crime are a woman and a man, each more the tool of their own fleshly appetites than the other. From the beginning, it is obvious this whole plot is doomed.
That isn’t the puzzle. What is puzzling is why Foote chooses to stage the drama before the backdrop of Arkansas governor Faubus’s attempts to block a federal court order to integrate the schools. It seems that somehow the crooks think that the political drama will enhance their ability to demand and collect ransom. Or something.
At any rate, whatever the plot flaws, the novel’s biggest problem is that it drags on and on and on. It takes a potentially suspenseful situation and turns it into a ho-humm. In fact, I think I just invented a new genre. The ho-hummer. I can at least thank Shelby for that new word.
Aside from that, I return to my heading on this page–FORGET SEPTEMBER