“I try to observe like Chaucer, not judge like Dante”
by Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
Vic Sizemore is the author of three novels, The Calling, Seekers, and She Rises Crying. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award. Sizemore’s short fiction and nonfiction is published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Connecticut Review, Blue Mesa Review, Sou’wester, PANK Magazine, Silk Road Review, Reed Magazine, The Stockholm Review, Eclectica and elsewhere.
Vic Sizemore, whose short story “Delmas” appears in July’s issue, is in the midst of a writing marathon: a cycle of four novels examining what he calls “the death of white Christian America.” This trend, which Sizemore also credits with the rise of the religious right, shapes the lives of his protagonists: people on the inside grappling with the overwhelming sense that their foundations are crumbling.
“Delmas” follows Delmas, in the aftermath of his wife’s death and eventual succumbing to his own health issues. One of the major tensions of the story is Delmas’s vocal distrust, discomfort, and even dislike of his increasingly diverse family and offspring: his eldest son marries a woman who is Asian, “their other son Joshua had decided he was gay, and their only daughter Deborah was living with a black man.”
Delmas’s “problem with diversity” is a common theme in Sizemore’s work, inspired by experiences from his own family: “Delmas’s problem with diversity is older white America’s problem with diversity; they see the browning of the nation and they are frightened by it. I observe it in my own father, who, when I recently told him my daughter’s summer job is working the fresh guacamole cart at a local Mexican restaurant, said, ‘Is she safe there?’ I asked him why she wouldn’t be safe. He said, ‘Well, you know, some are better than others.’ I have not hesitated to cut off contact with acquaintances who in this present political climate have been happy to let their bigot flags fly. However, my father is without fail kind and generous to strangers. He is not a gun-toting, angry white man; he is a minister, a gentle, nonviolent person. His world is passing away and a new world he doesn’t understand is replacing it. His fears are stoked and fed every night by the cable news he watches. Delmas is not my father, but he is my father’s race and generation.”
The art of “Delmas” is Sizemore’s ability to portray a difficult, bigoted character without any sugar-coating, as a multi-faceted human rather than a flat caricature. Perhaps it is the care with which Delmas escorts his ill wife across the Whidbey Island Beach or his deep connection with music. Perhaps it is the way in which Sizemore interprets Delmas’s type of bigotry as a side-effect of grappling with mortality. Although his beliefs are unacceptable, they are rooted in a common human experience—a commonality which allows the reader to at least consider the perspective of this complicated character. “The passing of Delmas’s world is a constant reminder that he too is on his way out,” Sizemore notes. “In his fear, he has cut himself off from this new world, alienating his children in the process. Once Lillian is gone, the only life event he has left to look forward to is joining her in death. Part of his making peace with that is viewing his life as ever more something he would just as soon leave.”
Another technique Sizemore employs to truly immerse himself in his character’s perspective is refraining from passing judgement. His readers can come to their own conclusions about Delmas’s beliefs and ultimate sticky end, while Sizemore, however, lets the story do the talking: “I try to observe like Chaucer, not judge like Dante; though I do not excuse reprehensible ideas or behavior, I do try to understand the people.”
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