‘Detroit Skyline, 1949’ by Bobbie Ann Mason

Detroit Skyline, 1949 by Bobbie Ann Mason, 1981

The magic trick:

Teaching lessons as expected – just not the expected lessons

Though not a Michigan author per se, Mason does a wonderful job in this story of recreating postwar Baby Boom Detroit – where television is a revelation, the Red Scare is scary, and the automobile industry is a way of life.

Mason’s protagonist is a girl visiting family in Detroit, up from western Kentucky with her mother. Mom is excited to show her the Detroit skyline – so different from anything they’d see back home in Kentucky. So it’s telling that the things that make the biggest impact on Peggy Jo have nothing to do with the city’s architecture at all. It’s the television and the constant worry about Communism. In fact, Peggy Jo doesn’t even see the Detroit skyline at all during the visit.

The trip proves as eye opening as her mother had hoped. Just not in any of the expected ways. And that’s quite a trick on Mason’s part.

The selection:

When my uncle came home from work, I greeted him at the door and asked him bluntly, “Are you going to get fired because of the reds?”

He only laughed and twitched my plaits. “No, sugar,” he said.

“That don’t concern young’uns,” Aunt Mozelle told me. She said to her husband, “Lunetta was here, spreading ideas.”

“Leave it to Lunetta,” said Uncle Boone wearily.

That evening they were eager to watch the news on the television set. When the supervisor who had been fired was shown, my uncle said, “I hope they give him what-for.”

“He was going to tell Russia about the power plant,” I said.

“Hush, Peggy,” said Mama.

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