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Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination tells the story of a woman named Susan Smith who falsely accused a young black man of stealing her vehicle, kidnapping and murdering her children. Eady uses multiple poems to tell the story from each perspective involved and represents the voice of the character or object within the style that he uses. Unlike Walker Percy, Eady’s work involves structure in adhering to style. However, similar to Percy, Eady steps approaches the story from obscure and abstract angles.

The title of the piece refers to the harm that can befall an individual caught on the guilty end of a lie, and how racism directs and amplifies this harm unfairly. Susan Smith directed the lens of law enforcement towards a young black man of average young black man height and average black man weight. Throughout the course of the story it becomes obvious that, to escape her own guilt, Ms. Smith fabricated a story that relied heavily upon the believability that a black man was more likely to attack her vehicle in the middle of the night, pull her from the vehicle and drive away promising he would not hurt her children than a white man. And it worked. Eady breaks from the story of Ms. Smith and relates her to Charles Stuart. Stuart had murdered his pregnant wife and shot himself. He had claimed a young black man did it. His story and description was identical to Susan’s.

Unlike Percy, Eady makes it clear to the reader very quickly what is going on. His point is made obvious in the first lines of the second passage. The young man telling the story admits that Susan has invented him. And that the law’s and the media’s and the public’s willingness to accept her story has caused blame to land upon him, even though it could have come to any other average young black men just as accidentally. Each passage to follow serves to explain or support the nature in which this is possible.

Eady begins with the sightings. The names are intentionally left blank. The reader is set up. They are left to fill the blank with their own imaginations. We do the exact thing Susan Smith has done. We craft a character built on generalities and stereotypes. Like Percy, the reader must participate but Eady has done all of the work for you, serving as a guide or mentor for the reader as they move through the story. You are following through the perspectives seldom taken and seeing the story the way Eady presents it. I believe Percy would find enormous bias in this method, regardless of his own interpretations and conclusions. The reader is still denied the ability to find out the facts on their own. Because of this, I found it difficult to align with Percy. The first time I read the story I overlooked it. My own suppositions glazed over the fact that I am only being permitted to see what I am allowed to see.

Each passage continues with intentionally vague generalities. However, through changing the style of the poem Eady is able to give each perspective its own unique voice. By doing so the reader is able to relate to the ideas that are presented. I was surprised at times to find I found myself wandering from this and reading in my own voice. I let my own bias and stereotypes affect my decisions and found that I was agreeing with Eady. This was indeed what had taken place. These were the events and lies and stereotypes that led to the wrongful accusation of a young black man who was guilty of nothing other than being young and being black. Again I was being Susan Smith.

I questioned myself again whether Percy would agree or disagree with Eady in his method of presenting this story to a reader. The more I return the more I appreciate the intentional vagueness Eady employed. It is impossible to know whether Eady is telling the truth or not. And after examination and dissection it is easy to realize a number of paths someone could take through Brutal Imagination. What could be lies and what could be truth are woven together and when one is peeled back another is revealed. Because of this, readers are free to believe or disbelieve Eady as they please. The story is better interpreted as an environment that the mind can explore. A setting that has been provided for the imagination and you are left with what could or could not be a web of lies about a web of lies where you must carve your own path.

Eady almost anthropomorphizes the details of the story, allowing them to tell what is to be perceived as their story themselves. The composite explains its role, stuck to lampposts and glued to plate glass. The press conference describes the setting as Susan steps toward the microphone. The confession describes its many attempts to escape. For days, it says, it wormed onward to freedom, blurting itself out for the sheriff to hear. The piece finishes with Susan Smith’s confession. The end of her lie tells the story of how the lie was born. It began as an idea in the back of her mind, and gained momentum as her anxiety increased. She explains her distress, emotionally disturbed and too afraid to commit suicide. Susan is afraid she is no longer a good mother and she does not want her children to grow up without a good mother. And though she lacked the ability to end her own life she managed to find the courage to push her children in to the lake. To explain her missing children she imagined the most likely of scapegoats; a young black man, average in height, average in weight with average black man looks.

I have no have familiarity with Eady and therefore no integrity. Yet her presents his story to me as truth and as evidence he guides me through his perspectives, his imagination of how the story was possible. He was free to include or discard any details, and in spite of this I found myself missing out on this – Eady could just as well be lying. Certainly Susan Smith is as vague a name for a white woman as can be. And again, later, he quotes a “Random Black Resident” of a southern state. Without checking, I am of the belief that Charles Stuart’s story in fact real, the details are too precise to fit with the surrounding characters and because the best lies involve truths.

Brutal Imagination builds on what I feel Walker Percy meant with The Loss of the Creature. Eady shows the harm of going with the crowd. That subscribing to stereotypes and vague generalities can have very real repercussions serves as a small detail to what Eady ultimately wanted the reader to achieve. Through this well designed story it is demonstrated how important it is to constantly question the reality of what you are being presented. In this web of lies you are left to discover your own truths and your perspective becomes the reality.


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