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After a rocky start, Slate steadies itself Recovery: A good, solid look at how the South influences the rest of the country. It's not all that rosy.


There was enough on the docket during the past month to feed the media maw, but Slate often seemed out of it, slightly off kilter, like a dancer a half-beat behind the rhythm.

Who knows when the collective sigh and brow wipe took place at, but Slate is looking better; editor Michael Kinsley can hold on to that Microsoft stock. Slate appeared occasionally moribund during the post-election melee, but it has rebounded with a solid issue.

Tony Horwitz reviews "Dixie Rising: How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture," the new book from the ++ New York Times' man in Atlanta, Peter Applebome. In the book, Applebome describes a Dixie that enjoys a robust economy and resurgent influence in Washington, and is beginning to capitalize on the benefits of cultural and racial diversity.

Horwitz writes, "This fresh take on the region should disabuse anyone who still imagines the South as a Gothic amalgam of 'Deliverance,' 'Gone with the Wind,' and Walker Evans photos of hollow-eyed sharecroppers."

But all is not rosy below the Mason-Dixon line: Applebome warns that "if the Southern doctrines now sweeping through America -- states' rights, low taxes, and quasi-fundamentalist Christianity, among other things -- do for the country what they've done for Dixie, we may all be in trouble." The links appended at the article's end offer peeks at Southern boosterism carried to its extreme, such as the neo-secessionist stance of the Southern League (

Elsewhere in the issue is the sputter and cough of an argument's endgame, the close of two months of e-mail sparring by the feisty Stephen Chapman, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and the pugnacious Andrew Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic. Like two junkyard dogs thrown one bone, the contenders gave all but failed to answer the question set before them: Is there a God? For the record, Chapman says nay, Sullivan yea; however, much of the dialogue took place before the pope and his top lieutenants started backpedaling on the evolution thing.

Hypertext criticized

Sounding increasingly like a cranky Luddite with each issue, paper-zine queen Pagan Kennedy gives hypertext a thorough spanking in the Web magazine. Links embedded within a hypertext document send readers on nonlinear side trails of inquiry. Layers of subplots can spiral off the main story, reveal alternate endings or terminate in literary cul-de-sacs. Kennedy finds it maddening and distracting, and, worst of all, says the budding novelist, it's going to devalue literature like a purple house among white-columned colonials.

"Just as Web habitues are generally too distracted to concentrate on a long story when they're surfing links, hyperfiction readers may be willing to tolerate only the shortest snippets of writing. Hypertext is a wonderful creative tool; it's also another nail in the coffin of the novel," she warns.

Of course, reading good online text and web-surfing are two different activities, as different as burrowing into a John le Carre thriller and scanning the cereal box during breakfast. Just as the nonlinear editing of the film "Pulp Fiction" didn't spell death for the film version of "Emma," there will always be a place for well-written conventional texts.

In fact, some of the best segue effortlessly into the digital realm; an electronically enhanced excerpt from Richard Powers' novel "Galatea 2.2" was one of the best offerings on the e-zine Word.

Elsewhere in the Web, there's an excellent piece by Greg Milner on the Velvet Rope, the by-invitation-only music industry forum on America Online. It's a place patterned after any VIP lounge in a New York or Los Angeles club, only you can't actually see the red-rimmed eyes and paunches of record-company suits. How much clout do these folks have? Milner says Velvet Ropers brag about breaking Alanis Morissette by plugging her inestimable talents before the country got wind of her. Depending on one's viewpoint, the Velvet Rope should be applauded -- or fashioned into a noose.

Back to Word (www.word .com), which Kennedy accurately describes as eclectic to a fault. The current issue has a hypertext article on rats that spins off into myriad directions, evolving from a compendium of facts into a well-written FAQ (frequently asked questions) on these pesky rodents. Steven Williams writes, "Its upper and lower incisors grow continuously, and if they are not kept in check, will grow right through the lower jaw and into the rat's neck, or up through the palate and into the brain. So, another way to look at the hole that a rat has gnawed through the concrete block wall into your pantry is not as an act of aggression, but as an act of self-preservation on the rat's part."

Check out "Fifteen," a sprawling pubescent parable that uses typography to highlight a chilling short story by Mame McCutchin. Two beautiful losers find each other in the suburban bleakness outside Boston: "In late September, there was a fire drill at school. My chemistry class poured out of the building. The drill was my omen. I knew it was time to bolt so I started saying good-bye to everyone. When the firemen waved us back inside, I went to the pay phone by the front office, called J C, and told him when to meet me at the train station in Boston. Then I walked off campus. No one tried to stop me. No one waved good-bye. No one called the cops. Probably no one noticed."

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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