A Mississippi family survives the Great Depression by making bootleg wine, but one member meets a tragic end in this memoir.
Debut author Moody tells the story of his various family members, particularly his grandfather Pappa Hailes and his Uncle Glen, as they fought to keep the family farm afloat in the 1930s. Pappa couldn’t get a loan to plant his crops after the stock market crashed, so he decided to make wine from wild grapes—a potentially lucrative but risky occupation during Prohibition. Teaming up with a slick banker working off the books, he secured funds and contacts. After a lengthy winemaking process, the hooch was ready and Pappa and Glen hooked up with Mafiosi in New Orleans to sell it. The first load was a hit and the business thrived. Glen befriended the head gangster, Salvatore Palermo, who introduced him to his beautiful young friend, Sybil Mervin, with whom Glen fell in love. On the way back to Mississippi, the couple was assaulted at a roadhouse; Glen killed one of the assailants and hid the corpse under rocks in a river. Sybil soon broke off the relationship and Glen went on to contract syphilis from a prostitute, which eventually led to a debilitating stroke that landed him in a state mental hospital. After a fisherman discovered the dead man’s body, Glen was implicated but got off on an insanity plea; he later committed suicide while suffering from depression. In the end, this is an uneven book that will leave some readers perplexed. The author occasionally interjects himself into the third-person narrative but also includes a great deal of conversation that the young author never could have heard nor recorded. Some of that dialogue, whether it’s fact or fiction, is creaky and unbelievable, as when Glen intones, “I wish you Godspeed.” The book is also prone to clichés (“the wolf was at the door”) and unnecessary detail, such as an explanation of what fishing waders are. However, Moody does offer up many fine and even poetic descriptions of people and places in Mississippi and New Orleans, such as a “warm, hospitable and gentle” Mississippi spring morning, and he effectively leavens this tragedy with humor. The plot also usually proceeds apace despite the tendency to overexplain.
flawed but strangely engrossing tale that’s sometimes tragic and sometimes