I had a few DNFs this week, but was reminded of this gem when I recommended it to someone and don’t regret revisiting it.
Richard Grant is an English ex-pat who has been living in the United States for a number of years. While living in a small New York apartment, Richard took a trip with a friend of his to Mississippi. On a whim, he buys an old plantation house and moves into it with his girlfriend. And thus is the start of hilarity and truth.
Neither Richard nor his girlfriend are familiar with Mississippi, much less the Delta–not named for a geographical delta, but actually an alluvial plain. He is now a resident of Pluto, a town named for the mythological lord of the Underworld. And after stories for critters in the walls, battling bugs, and his initial feelings of complete isolation it doesn’t take much to figure out why.
He meets many interesting people along the way and starts to unravel the mystery of why the Delta is so different not just from the rest of the Mississippi, but the rest of the country. It is its own beast, something that fascinates Grant enough that he becomes enamored of his new home. A self-proclaimed nomad, he puts down roots.
But his transition is not without difficulty, and he relays stories as only an outsider can. Making friends with a Blues legend, an eccentric millionaire, a Hollywood celebrity, a local hunter, a cookbook queen, and many more, Grant doesn’t shy away from his observations about the racial tensions of the area or the major structural problems of the small towns throughout the region.
Despite its lingering problems, Grant declares that Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America.
I was born in the Mississippi Delta. The pictures across the top of my blog all come from places and events near my hometown. My entire family, including my step-family, originates from the same area. And this book brilliantly captures what makes the Delta so utterly unique.
The book barely scratches the surface on a lot of issues, both because it would take thousands of pages to delve deeply and the friendships with locals that help make the book what it is were still developing while he wrote it. But as I read it, I laughed until I cried. And on a couple of occasions, I just cried.
I moved out of the Delta when I was still in elementary school, but returned to visit family frequently throughout my childhood and young adult life. I can say with honesty, that it’s hard to recognize how weird of a place it is until you step outside of it. And seeing it through an outsider’s eyes is always both hilarious and humbling.
That’s the essence of this book. It’s a true account of this man’s experience as he tries to figure out how we, the people of the Delta, came to be the way we are. He talks about how his revelations affect his view of Mississippi in general and the Delta in particular. And let me assure you, the Delta is indeed a space all its own. I noticed in college at Mississippi State that most kids say things like “I’m from the coast,” or “I’m from Jackson,” with the same voice inflection that most people would say “I brushed my teeth this morning.” It’s just a fact. But when people say “I’m from the Delta,” it’s different. It’s a story. And Richard Grant wrote his book based on his attempts to figure out that story.
I didn’t read this book alone. My sisters and my stepmother read it and we would text each other back and forth about things we read. Mostly we were laughing at what the author thought was so utterly strange that was completely familiar to us. So if you want a pretty spot-on account of what makes the Delta tick, this is a great resource.