Tag Archives: Mississippi

Book Review: The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

7 Nov

Because NaNoWriMo seems to be going well for me, I’m going to take a break today and write up this book review. I wanted to be sure to get these words down before I forgot anything about the book.

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

Book Cover from Goodreads.com

The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

I received an advanced reader copy of this book as a part of Goodreads First Reads program. I’m not sure if my copy is exactly the same as the published manuscript as I did find one typo. Maybe it got caught?

The Tilted World is a piece of historical fiction that takes place in 1927 Mississippi. Little remembered in history, the Mississippi River reached record heights that summer, threatening to flood the surrounding valleys. Federal agents Ingersoll and Ham are sent to the town of Hobnob to track down a bootlegger, but soon find a plot to blow up the levee and flood the town a bit more pressing. Complicating everything is the relationship between Ingersoll, the bootlegger, Dixie Clay, and her husband, the wheeling and dealing Jesse who sells moonshine all over the south.

I would identify the two themes of the book as motherhood and looking past prejudices. One of the central characters of the book is a baby named Willy. Ingersoll found Willy at the scene of a fatal shoot out where the infant’s parents were killed. An orphan himself, Ingersoll couldn’t bring himself to leave Willy at an orphanage and asked around Hobnob for a family that would take the baby. He was referred to Dixie Clay and her husband, Jesse, who lost a baby not long before.

Dixie Clay’s fierce love for her adopted son is a central theme of the book. She cares for him when he’s sick, takes him to the still with her when she’s making moonshine, and protects him from her temperamental husband. A mother’s love drives much of the plot.

The other theme is prejudices. Ingersoll is a federal agent who specializes in busting moonshiners. Dixie Clay is a moonshiner; the two should hate each other, but they don’t. The ability of the characters to look past what they do and see who the other person truly is as a human is another big theme of the novel. It’s a sort of a ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ theme.

As a writer of 1920s fiction, I was really excited to read this book. I knew nothing about the Mississippi flooding, which is the largest natural disaster in US history. I really enjoyed the history of this novel along with the mystery of who was going to sabotage the levee.

Jesse is the central antagonist in the novel as he works against both Dixie Clay and Ingersoll. He raises several issues of loyalty in the book; loyalty to his wife and loyalty to his community. Jesse’s faithfulness is questionable at best when it comes to his marriage. He frequents homes of ill repute, but is never honest about if it’s for business purposes or for his personal enjoyment. He gets angry at Dixie Clay when he suspects her infidelity, but her questions of him go by without comment.

His loyalty to the town causes the deaths of hundred of his fellow Hobnobers when (spoiler!) he takes a bribe from New Orleans in exchange for blowing up the levee. He was promised a run at governor and a huge sum of money to sabotage the levee and let Hobnob flood, leaving New Orleans safe from high waters. Jesse is loyal to no one but himself.

Writer’s Takeaway: Because I’m so engrossed in the 1920s with my own novel, there were a few things that bothered me about this book from a period standpoint. The biggest was that Dixie Clay’s house, in rural Mississippi and far from town, had electricity. My research showed that electricity was in most large cities, but I find her having electricity in such a small, out of the way house very hard to believe. I think it should have been edited out, especially because it wasn’t relevant to the story. But that’s just my opinion.

The pace of this novel was done very well. I was intrigued enough to keep reading but the authors didn’t give too much away at a time. Because the narrative bounced between Dixie Clay and Ingersoll, the reader always knew more than the characters and it was a race to see if they would figure everything out in time.

Every time I thought, “This is an irrelevant detail,” the authors would prove my wrong and bring all of the nuances of the text full circle. As a reader, I appreciate when the authors clear up all loose ends.

Overall, enjoyable and well written. Three out of five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.