Moonshine, Murder and the Great Mississippi Floods

9780230769007Review – The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

I loved Tom Franklin’s award winning Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter but it was with a bit of hesitation that I picked up his latest book. Not because the story didn’t appeal to me (it did) but because he has teamed up with his wife to write this book and I am not sure about co-authored books.

I can’t remember reading a dual authored book before and for some reason felt a reluctance to do so. I’m not even sure how the process works. Do co-authors alternate chapters or write different parts? Or do they write different characters’ points of view and meld everything together. There are probably a myriad of different ways it is done and with The Titled World it is impossible to tell as it is written and reads seamlessly.

Franklin and Fennelly tap into the world of bootlegging which seems to be making a comeback in crime fiction at the moment on the back of Boardwalk Empire. Set in the fictional town of Hobnob on the banks of the Mississippi during the great floods of 1927. Bootlegging has been rife in the community and when two revenue agents go missing aspiring Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover sends his two most trusted agents in to investigate. Posing as engineers they soon get caught up in the efforts to save the town from the flood waters. The town’s levees are threatening to break, either through the huge build up of water or at the hands of saboteurs down river.

The story is told from the one of the revenue agents’ point of view, Teddy Ingersoll, and that of bootlegging, house wife Dixie Clay (this maybe where the authors alternate but I couldn’t detect any changes in style or tone). Their lives and fates become entangled over an orphaned baby and when the levee eventually breaks their worlds are literally and figuratively turned upside down.

While The Tilted World doesn’t reach the heights or trawl the depths that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter did I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I’m not sure it has cured me of my reluctance to read co-authored books but I will be a little more willing in the future.

Buy the book here…

Part Southern Gothic, Part Epic Odyssey, Part Clash of Worlds

9781447225003

Review – Southern Cross The Dog

This novel captured my imagination and attention from the first words. Set in the American South after the great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the story is part southern gothic, part epic odyssey, part clash of worlds. At the same time it is a tender story about the endurance of the human heart and the lengths it can go to survive. Bill Cheng explores a world deeply rooted in the past that is crashing headlong into the future and resisting with all its might despite the people caught in between.

The story begins with a flood that washes away people’s homes and lives. The poor and down trodden are left to fend for themselves and the imagery of Hurricane Katrina almost 90 years later echoes through your mind. A young boy will first lose his home then his friends and finally his family. First in the flood, then in the aftermath. And so a journey begins. An odyssey of sorts through flood and fire, decay and renewal, past and present. A boy becomes a man and must choose whether or not to stick with the past or run into the future.

The comparisons to Cormac McCarthy abound but I think they’re off the mark. McCarthy’s writing is often sparse and direct while Cheng’s is more poetic and profound. His style and the structure of the story is more reminiscent of Column McCann but Cheng’s own distinct voice shines through. Cheng brings vividly to life a physical world of decay and renewal, hope and despair and echoes these sentiments through his characters. Hauntingly sad this is an epic journey that tests and strains the limits of human endurance both physically and of the heart.

Buy the book here…

The Flood

The FloodBrisbane is back on its feet, relatively speaking, but spend any time in the city and you’ll quickly realise that the recent flood is still very much on residents’ minds.

Conversations which are entirely unrelated veer back to the flood. Complete strangers share their own stories or offer condolences and sense of shock and awe. And cafes and restaurants that were flooded but that are now up and operating, pin snaps of the floods to their industrial-sized coffee-making machines—that’s, of course, the direction in which the waiting-for-coffee conversation flows.

I’m part of those conversations, having been evacuated from a client’s at West End, which was badly affected, to my own home at Windsor, which was flooded too. There’s no need to recount my tale here, because I blogged about my experiences at the time. This time I’m blogging about others’ accounts of the floods that affected the greater part of the supposed Sunshine State.

Thanks to HarperCollins, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Flood, a book that they put together in partnership with the ABC. It contains a foreword by Premier Anna Bligh, whose accomplished handling of the event and rousing speeches—not least the cheesy, but precisely what we needed tenet that ‘we’re the ones that they knock down and we get up again’—warmed our hearts, raised our spirits, and had many calling for her to be PM.

The books’ royalties go to the Premier’s Flood Appeal, making its purchase feel good as well as, frankly, kind of like a keepsake of an event that will be etched as strongly on this generation’s memories as the ’74 floods were on the previous ones’. But the real winner for me is the fact that the accounts within it are written by ABC journalists I’ve come to know and love.

I navigate my days by the likes of Richard Fidler and Spencer Howson, and their calmness and information-rich ABC Radio efforts steered me and many others through the floods (refreshingly absent of some of the hysteria and ratings grabs that gripped some of the commercial media). What we didn’t get from many of them was their personal accounts and reflections. This book, a few months and the need to communicate weather, tidal, and clean-up-volunteering information immediately removed, gives them that chance.

Most striking, though, are the images of flood-affected Queensland. My first-hand experiences were confined to Brisbane, and even then to the few streets around my home. Some friends of mine did some sightseeing and, while we were all discouraged from doing so, I also understand why they did.

I didn’t and couldn’t leave my home, so this is the first time I’ve seen some of these images. They’re incredible and almost inconceivable—even to someone who waded through water, shifted sludge by hand, and who still looks out her kitchen window the high-tide stain on her neighbours’ house. If there’s anything I’m learning, it’s that there’s no such thing as too many images of the floods.

I’m not sure whether it was because I was personally affected, having to sandbag my home and watch the floodwaters rise and swallow the first few feet of it for days, but I got a little teary leafing through this book. It brought back some of the memories and emotions that were so raw that week, but it also made my heart swell with pride at Queenslanders’ (indeed Australians’) no-nonsense pragmatism and stoicism.

But that’s not selling the book well, and I should note that some of the images made me chuckle—it seems you can throw a disaster at Australians, but you can’t wash away their sense of humour. This book reminded me of the floating walkway, the aptly named Drift restaurant, the little tug boat that saved the day.

It also reminded me that we (and I mean Brisbane, not Grantham or Toowoomba) got off relatively lightly, especially when you compare our flood to the recent earthquakes in Christchurch and earthquakes, tsunami, and near-nuclear disaster in Japan. Relatively light or otherwise, the 2011 floods will be etched on our collective consciousness for years to come, and Flood goes a long way to documenting and commemorating it. It’s one worth investing in to both capture the moment and to contribute to Queensland’s rebuilding process.