I haven’t read Dopesick. Please don’t judge me too harshly for that. I know – it has been out for years now. What’s up with me not having read it yet? I’ve readily and heartily suggested it to numerous friends and strangers because so many friends and colleagues have praised it. Until a few weeks ago, I’d never watched the Hulu series about it, either. When I decided that I was not going to miss Beth Macy talking about her work at Hindman Settlement School on October 4, a make-up date for a program originally scheduled the night of the horrific flooding that sent us all home early from the Appalachian Writers Workshop back in late July, I knew that I needed to at least be familiar with the series because I was already in the middle of another book and the older I get, the more slowly I read.
Watching anything about Appalachia via any media makes me nervous. Somehow, we have become the worst of every possible stereotype. Even if Beth Macy is brilliant, I am apprehensive about what Hollywood will do to my people when we go from the page to the screen. Still, Robert Gipe assisted with some of this stuff, so that in and of itself helped me retain faith. Not unearned. The series was well-scripted with great actors who portrayed Appalachians believably and accessibly. We are not the bad guys; the bad guys are the outsiders who come in to (yet again) strip Appalachians of what little we have, in this case, our health, dignity, and control of our lives. Perdue Pharmaceuticals, in real-life, as well as on-screen, specifically marketed drugs to us because of who we are, where we live, and because most people in our borders have had hard lives. They lied to us. They sold statistics that had never been researched. They caused good people, well-respected and trusted in their communities, to lie to patients about their drugs. They led us to slaughter quite intentionally and never cared about anything except for turning even bigger profits as they went along.
Beth Macy took the time to get to know her subject matter. Hailing from the Roanoke Valley, she saw the circumstances that arose from the opioid crisis and decided that it was time to sound the alarms and do something to try to ease the stigma of what Big Pharma had done to our region. She revealed the bad guys for who and what they were, holding no punches and taking no prisoners. And she did it with style and finesse. But more importantly, she did it with truth and honor.
I have a copy of the book that my friend Robert Gipe gave me as a consolation present the night of Troublesome Trivia at the Writers Workshop at Hindman the last night we were all there in July. I had Beth Macy sign it when I met her at Hindman. It’s next on my reading list. And after that, I want to read her book Truevine, which is set in Jim Crow-Era Virginia, and deals with a famous circus outfit, the kidnapping of two albino brothers, and how their African-American mother fought to get them back. None of the circumstances of this book should have surprised me. Yet, they did. I was outraged that something like that could happen in America. That a business could – and would – kidnap two innocent children to profit from their physical appearances/differences. I was sickened by the fact that a mother had to struggle as theirs did to try to get her children back, when she had done nothing wrong to cause them to be taken in the first place. I needed to know more, so I’ve added this one to my reading list, too.
Last of all, Beth Macy is just a really fun, down-to-earth, talented writer, who isn’t afraid to put real life on the page and present it to the world, whether it makes someone a friend or an enemy. She tells it like it is. And she tells the stories of everyday people who are trying to make a difference, people who have been wronged but still matter, people whose voices have been silenced and await someone to champion their life situations. She hasn’t forgotten who she was because it has made her who she is. And she runs with that in her writing.