The following is a quote from a NY Times review of Jennifer Haigh’s new story collection, News from Heaven. “Ms. Haigh is a coal miner’s granddaughter…. And although she has established herself as anything but a provincial writer, she is drawn back to coal country over and over again.” It’s a great review that made me want to read the book, but… that troubling word provincial, and its Canadian counterpart regional. When I hear someone say a book is too regional (and I’m not talking about Jennifer Haigh’s book here; the reviewer loved it), I fear the speaker is using a word embodying a certain bias, or perhaps several biases: that rural people are unsophisticated; that contemporary fiction about rural people is unsophisticated; that writers who write about rural people are unsophisticated. And so on. Regional and provincial are words that are applied to someone — we don’t tend to call ourselves that — and so they are condescending. They are not applied to writers such as Richard Ford or Jennifer Haigh because… well, they’re too good to be called regional. My point is, if you’re driven to call a book regional or provincial, you didn’t like it much, so why not criticize the writing rather than dismissing the writer and the people the book is about? And if a book is of high literary merit, as Jennifer Haigh’s new book obviously is, there’s no need at all to include the words not provincial, which read as a caveat even when that’s not the reviewer’s intention, or as an assurance that the book is good even though it’s set in Pennsylvania.
There. Pet peeve. Looking forward to reading News from Heaven.