Books by Elaine Dundy

Released: June 13, 1991

In the chatty, breezy style of her Elvis and Gladys (1985), Dundy explores the history and character of the small southern town that has produced the likes of Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gen. Claire Chennault, and newscaster Howard K. Smith. What is it about Ferriday that can bring forth from a population of 5,000 these varied celebrities, plus blues trombonist Pee Wee Whittaker and country-and-western singer Mickey Gilley? Dundy examines the early Spanish and French influences; the town's integral relationship to Natchez, Tenn.; the role of the plantations and the Civil War; and the tremendous influence of Leona Sumrall—founder in the late 1930's of the Assembly of God Church—whose evangelical fervor has passed from one generation to another. The author provides some insight by contrasting the differing motivations of 18-century governor Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos and of his assistant, Don Jose Vidal. Gayoso de Lemos's need for personal glory was inseparable from the glory of Spain, whereas the ambitious Vidal felt little need for personal glory—just personal property. One was a colonialist, the other was an entrepreneur, and, according to Dundy, both are keys to the heritage of Ferriday. Among other factors, Dundy also wants to credit ``telluric'' forces, a term physicists ascribe to an area whose subsurface is unnaturally high in flowing electrical currents. She is more at home in discussing pop figure Lewis and his two cousins (Swaggart and Gilley) and the familial and social influences that brought them to notoriety, but that is ground rather well trod. More discussion of Chennault and Smith would have been welcome, and Whittaker's life in music, which spans nearly eight decades, calls for considerable amplification. Intriguing, but incomplete and inconclusive. (Fifteen photographs.) Read full book review >