It sounds like the start of a classic fish-out-of-water tale: take one man from England who’s been living in New York City, plop him down in a tiny town in the Mississippi Delta, and hilarity ensues. It’s a true story, though, and Richard Grant writes about his adventures in the entertaining and enlightening Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta.
After befriending Delta native and cookbook author Martha Foose, Grant visits her home stomping grounds and finds himself entranced by the land, the people, and the beauty of it all. The Delta’s languid pace appealed to him, as well, especially coming from NYC’s frenetic, stressful quality of life. Grant persuaded his Arizona-born girlfriend, Mariah, who’d also been living in Manhattan, to move south with him. (She didn’t take much persuading, as they were both burned out on big-city living.) Before you know it, they’re the proud owners of a circa-1910 4-bedroom farmhouse in Pluto, Mississippi.
Right away, they tried to orient themselves in their new Holmes County surroundings, learning the ways of their fellow Delta residents as if undertaking an anthropological study. The neighbors welcomed them with the hospitality you’d expect, filling their calendar with social engagements from elaborate dove hunts to dinners with eccentric characters galore.
Grant and his girlfriend learned how to shoot guns and hunt, how to deal with more mosquitos than they’d ever seen in their lives, how to identify cottonmouths, how to effectively clear weeds for a garden, and how to make home repairs on a hundred-year-old house. They learned new words (like “brake” and “slough”) and explored many of the small towns in the Delta that have seen more prosperous days. Grant toured Parchman, made a friend in Morgan Freeman, visited with bluesman T-Model Ford, and covered Bill Luckett’s campaign for mayor of Clarksdale.
Through it all, Grant writes with an admiration and tenderness for his new home and neighbors. The book’s often riotously funny, particularly when describing real-life crime stories in Greenwood and elsewhere. But Grant’s also thoughtful and earnest in trying to understand race relations in modern-day Mississippi. In one chapter he tackles, for instance, the current abysmal state of affairs of the public schools in the Delta. And he writes movingly about the grinding poverty he sees there.
Grant’s insights as an outsider trying to decipher a new world make this book compelling and also challenging. He’s confronting tough truths and asking hard questions, but from a place of genuine respect and love.
(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/12/book-biz-an-englishman-adjusts-to-his-new-mississippi-delta-home/)
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