I'm probably running the risk of Reform Club excommunication by admitting I've never read a Nero Wolfe mystery before. On the other hand, the knowledge that I've been deprived of these engaging characters for forty years surely counts as penance. But my post doesn't concern Rex Stout, but "no-relation-to" David Stout, who wrote the introduction to the Bantam edition, and who has committed one of my pet peeves, the Ignorant Little Lie.
Unlike Goebbels's Big Lie, the Ignorant Little Lie is so tiny, and so superficially unimportant, that people get irritated with you for pointing them out. You're picking at nits. You're being anal. But that means accretions of Ignorant Little Lies build up, unchallenged, and become over time something more like conventional wisdom. The most enduring little lies always confirm a notion someone already holds, and the person who perpetrates one is probably not even untruthful so much as lazy. It fits with what he knows, and he doesn't bother to check it twice.
David Stout's introduction focuses on the then (1964) somewhat more sensational theme of interracial romance that is at the center of A Right to Die: a white woman, engaged to a black man, is found murdered, and the black man is the prime suspect. But this is the graf that irked me:
The hunt takes us to the Midwest, where the victim, Susan Brooke, grew up and went to college. The Midwest seems the best place to look, for there was a tragedy in Susan's earlier life there, and Stout-Wolfe understood that tragedies spawn their own avenging ghosts. (Not for nothing does that quintessentially midwestern state, Indiana, call itself the "Main Street of America." A black man and a white woman would draw stares on the Main Street of 1964.)The problem here is that Indiana does not, either officially or in the unofficial banter of its citizenry, call itself "The Main Street of America." Indiana does, however, call itself the "Crossroads of America." Indiana adopted this motto in 1937, in honor of its position as a central hub for rail and motor transport. Before the completion of the interstate highway system, US 40 was a coast-to-coast route from Atlantic City to San Francisco. US 31 was the major north-south artery connecting the Michigan Great Lakes ports with the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. They intersect at Monument Circle, in the very center of Indianapolis.
The implication of being the "Crossroads" is rather different from that of a "Main Street." The city at the crossroads sees traffic flowing through it from all corners of the country. The addition of port traffic extends that flow internationally. Rather than the insularity of an elm-lined Main Street, the crossroads makes a community more cosmopolitan, more aware of and accepting of difference. More tolerant, in today's impoverished argot. I realize it runs counter to the conventional wisdom that the hayseeds of the Midwest might be less committed bigots than urbanite Washingtonians or New Yorkers or Angelinos, but telling lies about the Midwest does nothing to buttress the argument.
There is a "Main Street of America" -- the old Route 66. Unfortunately for David Stout's thesis, Route 66 never went through any part of Indiana, and most of it ran through the southwest, not the midwest. Interracial couples might have been stared at on various sections of Route 66 as it meandered through eight states in 1964, but I'd like to see a little proof, instead of a little lie, that such stares were more likely on the Midwestern legs than elsewhere.