>Richard Powers hates the hulking white Chevy Silverado pickup he’s driving. He apologizes after picking me up at the airport in Knoxville, Tennessee, on a cool evening in early April, that his Chevy Volt, an electric hybrid, is in the shop, and he has to maneuver this beast, with its 20 miles to the gallon, across winding country roads. He’s pretty sure the service-department guy at the Chevy dealer, having identified Powers as a treehugger, is still grinning at loaning him a four-by-four. I laugh off Powers’ apology, knowing he’s a good environmentalist, but am a little concerned when he veers into the opposing lane. “Holy, crap, sorry about that,” he says, nervously correcting an oversteer, as an oncoming truck whizzes by us.
>A few miles from Powers’ home in the Smoky Mountain foothills, we stop at a scenic overlook. Powers strikes up a conversation with a Tennessee old-timer, who’s standing beside an immaculately restored 1935 Ford pickup. He opens the engine hood for us. “Ford’s early V8,” he says. “Look at that flathead,” Powers says. “A beauty.”
Bringing the subtext to light: the journalist who wrote this piece disagrees with the assertion "there are things more interesting than people". He then goes about in advancing this view in a variety of ways:
1. He writes in a way so that the most interesting subject in his article is a person.
2. He creates negative emotions at the start of the article so as to emotionally color how people will read the tamer, more objective rest of the article.
3. He shares his (negative) personal experiences with the interviewee so as to both create a sense of sympathy for the journalist and a sense of animosity towards the interviewee. That is, he brings up unrelated information so as to bolster his main subtextual argument.
Among other ways. I leave their spotting as an exercise for the reader.
Let's take the bit you quote. The first thing we learn about Powers, after the fact that he doesn't like the car he's driving, is that he (1) took the trouble to pick the journalist up from the airport, and then (2) apologized to the journalist for something minor that wasn't even his fault, (3) in a humourous way. We're told that Powers is "a good environmentalist". Most of us, especially readers of this sort of thing, are likely to feel good about that, but it might suggest a certain sanctimoniousness and car-hostility ... so the next thing we get to see is Powers appreciating a fine old motor vehicle, and making friendly conversation with his neighbours in the process.
I'm really not seeing what's meant to make me feel a sense of animosity here.
Here's another paragraph from the article, pretty much the only one that's wholly occupied with description of Powers.
"Powers may strike dissonant notes about his novels’ public image, but in conversation he never resorts to fanfare. Still charmingly lanky at 60, with a boyish face just starting to pay a debt to aging, he articulates his views with an intelligence so free of self-importance that you wonder if there’s something wrong with his wiring. He listens patiently and respectfully, then dazzles with quiet authority."
Charming. Youthful. Intelligent. Humble. Patient. Respectful. Dazzling. Authoritative. I guess you might describe someone that way if you were hoping to make your audience hate them out of jealousy, but I really don't get that impression from the article.
Pretty much everything else there seems to me like it puts Powers in a positive light, too.
So I can kinda buy claim 1 and maybe claim 2. Claim 3, though? Not so much.
Reminds me of when people criticize some sci-fi works for lacking in character development. My default response is: almost every other literary genre is about character development. I read sci-fi precisely because it's about ideas, about things more important than how people feel about each other. If I wanted to experience more of the interpersonal drama, I'd pick up a romance novel instead. Alas, I see enough of that in the real life.
Of course one would expect to see some character development in a story that covers a large part of anyone's life but that doesn't make the story "about" character development.
Most so-called literary fiction (the stuff that gets lots of highbrow reviews, not so many sales, wins prizes this year and is totally forgotten in two years' time) tends to be about character development, perhaps even more so than romance.
A basic gasoline sedan can still often get 30mpg, so you don't have to go to subcompacts or hybrids to get decent gas mileage.
Favorite vehicle I've driven so far.