Meandering examination of a ne’er-do-well blamed for a levee break during the Midwestern floods of 1993.
After several months of steady rain, West Quincy, Mo., was literally sinking. Community members combined their efforts with the National Guard to strengthen the levee protecting the area from the Mississippi River’s rising waters. Joining the ranks of levee workers, Jimmy Scott believed, would relieve him of his miserable shifts cleaning grease bins at the local Burger King. An irresponsible boozer, Scott often skipped sandbagging under the hot sun in favor of a few beers in the shade. Nonetheless, he did notice a trouble spot in the levee one day and reported it; some eight hours later, the levee broke. At this point, Pitluk (Standing Eight: The Inspiring Story of Jesus “El Matador” Chavez, Who Became Lightweight Champion of the World, 2006) turns back to exhaustively detail Scott’s childhood in West Quincy. His penchant for mischievous “clandestine midnight missions” around the neighborhood with his two brothers was remembered by police when they scoured for suspects in a fire that burned down Webster Elementary School in 1982. Twelve-year-old Jimmy admitted his guilt and was sentenced to a few months in a youth home. A mental-health evaluation diagnosed mild depression and hyperactivity/attention deficit disorder. Shunned by the community after his release, he went on to spend his youth in and out of detention facilities on a variety of arson charges. In 1993, as word spread about the levee break, the town quickly cast former “miscreant” Scott as a saboteur. He maintained his innocence, but authorities, townsfolk and even Scott’s friends believed otherwise. A jury found him guilty of intentionally causing a catastrophe, and he was sentenced to life in prison. “I’ve never meant to assign guilt or innocence,” writes Pitluk. “It is my intention that the reader form his/her own opinion.” Lacking passionate conviction either way, however, his book may have a difficult time finding an audience.
Comprehensive but halfhearted.