Author: Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1920s / Mississippi / Natural Disaster / Prohibition / Marriage / Motherhood)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (6/10/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A bootlegger and an IRS revenue agent cross paths in a small town on the Mississippi in 1927.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do but it really has nothing to do with the story!
I'm reminded of...: Ann Weisgarber, Jenny Wingfield
First line: Dixie Clay was squelching through the mud along the creek's swollen banks, shooing mosquitoes with her hat, when she saw a baby coffin bobbing against a sycamore snag.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!
Why did I get this book?: I love me some 1920s!
Review: This delicious novel is penned by a novelist and poet, who co-wrote the entire thing, creating an atmospheric, emotional, and vivid story of love, place, betrayal, and violence. I apologize now if my review doesn't convey my deep like and enthusiasm for this novel -- writing reviews recently has been hard! (Pregnancy brain! and all that, right??)
Set in 1927 in a fictional town on the Mississippi, the story is split between Dixie Clay, a bootlegger who lost her son two years ago; and Ted Ingersoll, a IRS agent searching for two murdered revenue agents with his partner Ham Johnson. But the plot isn't precisely a cat-and-mouse tale, nor a will-they-or-won't-they love story, as the threat of the Mississippi flooding over its levees colors everything and everyone.
Ingersoll, a jazz-loving orphan who fought in Europe during World War I, stumbles upon an infant when he and his partner investigate the scene of a shootout. Loathe to leave the child at an orphanage, on the recommendation of a shop keeper he gives the baby to a young housewife, pretty Dixie Clay.
Dixie, still heartbroken over the death of her infant, clings to the new child, disbelieving -- and unwilling to give him up even when her good-for-nothing husband threatens her. While Ingersoll and his partner masquerade as engineers arrived to help fortify the levees against the swelling Mississippi, they quickly learn that Dixie Clay's swank and swaggering husband is an ambitious criminal, and Ingersoll has to reconcile his interest in Dixie with his desire to do his job well.
There's a love story in this novel that is predictable, but I didn't mind, as I just adored both Dixie and Ingersoll. The flood of 1927 was totally new to me, despite being considered by some to be the worst natural disaster to ever occur in our country, and the events and impact of the flood were fascinating and disturbing and made for a fantastic backdrop to this story.
I'll admit I was curious how coherent the story would feel with two authors. My apprehension was that the two viewpoints would be split between the authors -- Ingersoll penned by Franklin and Dixie by Fennelly -- and according to the Reader's Guide included with the novel, this was the original plan. In the end, however, both authors worked on both characters and sections, and the resulting prose is just gorgeous -- lyrical, poetic, rich, and action-filled.
As one who is going to give birth in a few months, I enjoyed Dixie's ruminations on motherhood and parenting -- I haven't been drawn to fiction around those themes for some reason, but welcomed them here. (Fennelly wrote Great With Child, a volume of letters she sent to a pregnant friend -- "These are letters I would have welcomed when I was pregnant," she said -- and if they're half as tender and thoughtful as her writing here, I'm going to love them.)
For those who enjoy Jazz Era-novels but want something different, consider this one -- I haven't stumbled over many novels that feature jazz fans and flappers that aren't set in a large urban center. Fans of fiction set in the South absolutely will want this book -- place is a very rich character here! Thoughtful and action-filled, this is a wonderfully escapist novel with two very appealing characters and an absorbing story.
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