He vowed to relate his impressions of this rarest slice of the Deep South through critical but nonjudgmental eyes.
Uh-oh. Here we go again.
Another “outsider” tells Mississippians who they are.
Well, how did this Englishman in King Cotton’s Court fare?
“Dispatches From Pluto” has been at or near the top of The Clarion-Ledger bestseller list for weeks and weeks, which explains the crowd of about 250 he addressed at St. James Episcopal Church in Jackson last week.
Could it be that Grant will become the Alexis de Tocqueville of the 21st century for Mississippi — or at least what is, almost beyond arguing, the most intriguing part of the state?
The Frenchman visited the young democracy of America in the early 19th century and weighed its assets and liabilities.
He did not succumb to European biases about this wild, rough-hewn nation.
Instead, he weighed seeming contradictions and came out with a balanced view, “Democracy in America,” that is read to this day for its valuable insights.
Some things have changed in Grant’s life since he and his then-girlfriend moved from New York City to Pluto, which, as you probably didn’t know, is in Holmes County, whose western half is in the Delta – hence the subtitle of the book, “Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta.”
He and Mariah got married in the Delta. Their daughter, Isobel (Scottish spelling) was born July 5 in Jackson and the book was published last fall.
In fact, the family has moved to Jackson, he told the St. James gathering. “I live right around the corner,” he said.
“I really love Mississippi and we’re planning to stay.”
One wonders if, being a married man and a new dad, he might settle down a bit.
But the travel and adventure writer who has navigated an uncharted river in Africa, recounted in “Crazy River,” and fled bandidos in a hail of bullets in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico, documented in another book, “God’s Middle Finger,” already plans to stalk a jaguar that killed and devoured a 230-pound black bear in the Santa Rita mountains of Arizona, the first such recorded incident.
He may not return, and it might not be by choice. One hopes he makes it back, and in one piece. We need more ambassadors like him.
One choice he did make a few years ago was to become an American, he and “about a hundred Mexicans” in Arizona.
The next, and far more demanding, step would be to become a Mississippian. He’s made a lot of progress in his internship in the bizarre fauna, flora and society of what historian James Cobb called “The Most Southern Place on Earth.” And that’s saying a lot.
I wouldn’t say that Grant has put Pluto on the map. It’s hardly big enough to be seen with the naked eye.
But through Grant’s lens, it comes into focus.
“It seems like every time I leave the house, something weird or wonderful happens,” he writes.
The house? It was award-winning cookbook storyteller Martha Foose’s father’s, till she served it up to him, with the help of a generous banker (an oxymoron?).
It is with a bit of hesitancy that an oversight needs attention in this otherwise fine book.
There is only a passing mention or two of Greenville, the Queen of the Delta for so many years. And especially so with the river city’s outlandish contribution to literature and sincere efforts for social improvements in the region dominated in terms of population by blacks but under the rule of whites.
Greenville was home to William Alexander Percy, Shelby Foote, Walker Percy, Hodding Carter Jr. and Ellen Douglas. And that by no means exhausts the list.
Grant confessed at St. James that he wrote “Dispatches” in 100 feverish days. So the deadline may be the reason for the oversight.
Yet what Grant paints is a panorama – which otherwise could be dismissed as a fecund, desolate stage where the extremes of human experience are played out in tragi-comic absurdity – seen it its totality, with oases of kindness, generosity (that word again) and reconciliation.
And, besides, it’s never too late to write about Greenville. And other parts of Mississippi, which long ago proved it is a world without end.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.