I was talking to a preacher-man friend of mine some time back and he told me about this interesting book he was reading – Dispatches from Pluto, by author Richard Grant. He said that he thought it might just be the least biased book about Mississippi that he’d ever read. That piqued my interest and I got a copy and I think he is right.
Dispatches from Pluto combines a native’s love of all that is wonderful and wondrous about Mississippi with a dispassionate outsider’s view of all that is backwards and infuriating about Mississippi.
Stranger in a strange land
The premise of the book is this – the author, an Englishman who had been living in New York City, decides to buy an old plantation in the Mississippi Delta, the most deprived area of the poorest state in the U.S., and move there with his liberal girlfriend. He is inspired by the wife of the Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi, who he met at a party, and who told him that “The Delta… is the third world right here in the middle of America …beautiful, tragic, and totally batshit crazy!”
The Mississippi Delta that Grant describes is all of that and more. One of the most striking observations was that Mississippi seemed all so familiar, “from Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean: the collapsing infrastructure, the intermittent electricity supply, the air of lassitude and disorganization, the ancient forms.” Grant says it reminded him of a combination of Burundi and 1970’s England, where “nothing worked properly, the tea break was sacrosanct, and an obstructive time-wasting surliness prevailed at every interface between institutions and the public.”
Balanced depiction of the awesome and the awful!
If this were just another in a long line of down-on-Mississippi books and movies, I could have just thrown it away and dismissed it as the ravings of some jerk from England. But he was equally eloquent about the amazing, beautiful things he saw in Mississippi, devoting chapters to the generosity of the people, how he learned to garden and hunt, and the amazing musicians and writers.
Richard Grant’s Dispatches from Pluto is well worth reading a time or two, whether you love Mississippi or hate it – because whichever opinion you hold, this book will confirm your opinion while clearly and extensively depicting the merits of the other.
I think this is probably the most non-biased book about Mississippi that I’ve ever read.
If you click on any of the pictures or links above, they will take you to Amazon, where you can get a copy of the book and the Roaming Parkers might get a commission on the sale at no additional expense to you.