The natives are pretentions snots and they're getting restless
from the Autumn 2008 issue
Four years ago, I penned a note of gratitude to you, full of thanks for your Reader’s Digest Condensed Novels. Because while we have our freedom and plenty to eat, the hours pass slowly here, north of the Arctic circle. We have always made it a practice to freely lend your editions to the natives of our far-flung island (how their little crescent-moon eyes would light up!); we’ve tried to encourage the growth of a fine moral sensibility in our great nation’s youngest state.
Little did we suspect the presence of a Pandora’s box lurking inside your carefully abridged volumes. The recent editorial decision to include the fiction of “experimental” and “bohemian” writers, such as Truman Capote and William S. Burroughs, has turned our little slice of pastoral paradise into a debauched demimonde of high modernism.
It all started rather quietly, of course. Atlutaq, one of the teenage boys from the village and a curious but contrary little fellow, secretly placed an order for the Paris Review in our Seward-bound mailbag. When the issue of that disgusting magazine arrived six months later, it was a mighty shock—Mailboat Day is nearly as holy as Easter or the Fourth of July here and ours was now tainted with a stain of subversive snobbery. (Not to mention the disloyalty and disrespect done the Digest!)
Well, we put an end to Atlutaq’s rifling through our saddlebags, but it was too late, as the infection had already begun to spread. The natives have no money of their own—during the shearing season we would pay them with whale blubber and caribou meat, as was their wont. Now, they were constantly pestering Arthur and me to buy them volumes of symbolist poetry or Bergsonian critique. Arthur patiently explained the concept of private property to them, that they would have to raise their own funds if they wanted to pursue such un-American viciousness, but to no avail.
Soon, I could no longer take my daughter to school without us being publicly slurred as “that fat bourgeois sow trundling along with her toddling piglet.” And that is only one among many calumnies, most of which I hesitate to print, so indecent are they to civilized ears! (I do not know what a “Flaubertian flibbertigibbet” is, but I am sure it is impolite.)
The situation grows worse by the hour. As I write this letter, the natives are beating, beating on our compound’s walls. “More books!” they demand, “but none of your watered-down hausfrau pulp. Give us Gide, give us Joyce and Yeats,” they cry, “and we shall let you be.”
But there is nothing, nothing in heaven or earth that will slake the hunger of these Eliot-mad Esquimaux litterateurs. The territorial school has gone up in flames; they have hanged Stinkerpuss from the now-inverted crucifix that hangs outside the Russian Church. We cannot get out. We cannot get out. Our bellwethers, Sam and Johnny and Ike, fell, trampled beneath the onslaught of their verse-crazed rage. The ice piles up to the wall at Westgate. The self-styled “Watcher of the Walrus” took Arthur! We cannot get out. Drums, drums from the snowy embankment: They are coming. There is … nothing more. We cannot get out.
Mrs Arthur Harris, Harris Aleutian Livestock Co.
Nikolski Village, Alaska
July 23, 1958
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