As someone who's read her fair share of Charlotte-centric stories — thanks to this here newspaper and writers like John Grooms and David Aaron Moore — the works in 27 Views of Charlotte feel familiar, like slipping into an old winter coat at the first sign of cool weather.
The first in the anthology, "A Capital City," comes from David Goldfield, a founding member of the Levine Museum of the New South. It's a fitting start to the Views From Before section, following longtime Observer editor Jack Claiborne's introduction. After all, a look back wouldn't be complete without mention of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker; the 1990s controversy surrounding the staging of Tony Kushner's Angels in America and the ultimate defunding of the Arts & Science Council; the banking boom from the mergers of NationsBank with Bank of America and First Union with Wachovia, respectfully; and, of course, a reference to (or dig at) Atlanta ("In other words, Charlotte was becoming a real city, and we no longer looked to Atlanta, an ersatz global city strangled by highways, traffic, and crime").
But did you know Charlotte was the last capital of the Confederacy? Me neither.
At 219 pages, 27 Views of Charlotte is a meaty introduction for newcomers to the city. The sixth installment in Eno Publishers' 27 Views series offers a "literary montage" of Charlotte, from fiction and poetry to essays and historical accounts. Here you get the gist of what makes Charlotte, well, Charlotte — skimming from its past and painting portraits of its present. Topics range from mill life and race relations to the death of Eastland Mall and Charlotte's place in the financial world. There are also some in-depth reads on the beginnings of the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Charlotte's trees.
It's all very safe, and if you've lived here any amount of time, expected.
That's not to say these perspectives aren't valuable. The diversity of authors and experiences is rich, and each story is relatable in its own way. In Joyce and Jim Lavene's "My Mother's Eyes," for example, I found myself recalling how I, like Joyce's mother, marveled at the city when I first laid eyes on it.
What works best, though, are the stories that give us a peek into the lives of the authors through the scope of a place. It's those views — the veteran who takes his daughter to Veterans Park on Saturdays to encounter "the New South"; the college professor who observes with amusement the battle between renters and home owners in her eccentric College Downs neighborhood — that shed light on what Charlotte has become. While the historical accounts in the beginning of the book offer substance, these personal essays thumped like beating hearts, and I longed for more.
Toward the end of the anthology, there's a short section featuring fiction, including one story by CL columnist Ailen Arreaza. It's easy to report on what actually happened, but to dream a little about what could or couldn't be — that makes for some great reading, and all three tales are beautifully written.
Claiborne writes in his intro, "Charlotte has always been a pushy city," but the stories featured in 27 Views are hardly pushy. The writing is fantastic — we'd expect nothing less from this roster, ranging from journalists to novelists — but I would have loved to have read a piece from someone unexpected. A second-generation Asian immigrant, perhaps? A transgender activist?
In my literary closet, 27 Views of Charlotte is the black, knee-length pea coat that goes with everything. It's warm, comfortable and dependable. It's not that we don't want to don that oldie but goodie; it's just that some of us are longing for the new, muted pink leather jacket on display in the shop window. That's Charlotte, too.