Fiction is more than entertainment. It informs readers about the times in which it was written.
An Inch of Snow (1964) is such a novel. It was written by William E. Cobb, a Burke County Republican, who served as a minority leader in the North Carolina Senate and served as the North Carolina Republican Chairman.
Although the novelist Cobb is a Republican and a New Yorker transplant to North Carolina, he writes from the perspective of a Southern Democrat, Bill Anchor. The “Jefferson County” resident begrudgingly befriends the Northern businessman, Horatio Bunker, and eventually and ironically works for the Republican at his state legislative campaign headquarters in “Jeffersonville, Tarvania.”
Old Bill Anchor initially distrusts Horatio Bunker because the Yankee acted differently, driving his fancy cars and wearing his expensive business suits. Even worse, Bunker ignored tradition. In a display of vile taste, for example, he purchased an historic house and furnished it with contemporary and nontraditional styles.
In time, Bunker realizes that the old man can impart knowledge and help him win an election, and Anchor mentors the businessman and aspiring politician. While Anchor notices that Republican candidates “can’t deliver a speech without dragging poor old Abe out of his grave,” the old Democrat observes that the young Republican has a gift for “listening to other people’s gripes” and identifying with potential voters—he joins a church, he samples moonshine, and allows himself to be laughed at after a poor coon hunt performance. He even exchanges his precious Bentley for a souped-up Ford truck.
Anchor also observes that the Yankee businessman listens to advice. He learned “what a great many politicians never learn—that under no conditions does a successful campaigner oppose God, the Flag of the United States of America, or Motherhood.”
In the novel, humorous passages describe party loyalty. When describing his wife’s tendency to vote Republican, Anchor reasons: “Being Republican in Jefferson County is kind of a hereditary disease with some families. There’s no rhyme or reason . . . They just vote that way year in and year out. . . .” Anchor considered his wife to be as stubborn as her father. And like him, “she might have been short on logical reasons for being a Republican, but she sure didn’t give an inch when it came to being one.”
Democrats take shots, too. When Anchor is asked by Bunker why he didn’t change parties, the “Tarvania” native replies: “I’m a working Democrat because I believe that our Party is right . . . I do not intend to forsake it just because a bunch of left-wingers have gotten control of it nationally . . . And if it weren’t for little loyal men such as I the Democratic Party would never come back to the ideals of Thomas Jefferson.”
In his entertaining novel, Cobb describes the complexity of Southern race relations, and the tensions between state political parties and national parties. There are descriptions of the political divide and distrust between Tar Heel Republicans and Democrats, the lingering memory of the War Between the States, and descriptions of small-town North Carolina life.
An Inch of Snow also includes humorous descriptions of campaign machinations and strategies to reach a diversity of voters and community leaders. There are descriptions of the eugenics program in the state, the ironic cooperation of bootleggers and preachers to keep out ABC stores, the various bureaucracies in “Tarvania City,” a debate concerning the necessity of Social Security, and a conversation concerning labor relations in Southern mills.
All of this is in a novel centered on a 1960 North Carolina legislative race and the revival of the North Carolina Republican Party.
(For more on how the fictitious speeches in An Inch of Snow reveal the actual concerns of 1960s North Carolinians and sound almost exactly like some of the economic arguments put forth in 2012, please click here.)