In 22 lively essays, 10 reprinted from Vogue, the New York Times Magazine, etc., Reed defends, with wry humor and an agreeable appreciation of the absurd, the South’s continuing distinctiveness.
Some of these pieces overlap in content, but collectively they form a portrait of a region that, despite shopping malls and national chains, continues to follow its own idiosyncratic ways. The subjects are South lite, reflecting rather regional quirks than the darker history, as Reed writes of debutantes, food, and alcohol consumption in essays titled, respectively, “Debutantes,” “Eat Here,” and “Booze.” Debutante balls in the South, Reed observes, are burdened with a whole lot of history as they try to resurrect the past by honoring old well-born families and “the myth of our cavalier past in all its full-blown weirdness.” In “Eat Here,” she observes that though tastes are now more sophisticated, southerners eat okra, drink iced tea (sweet or unsweet), and, unlike Yankees, when asked to name the best meal ever eaten, will recall one served at home. Mississippi, where Reed was born, kept Prohibition laws on the books until 1966 (“Booze”), but that didn’t stop the state having the cheapest and most plentiful alcohol as well as more liquor retail outfits than any of the legally wet states. Other essays explain southern fashion (soft and ladylike), justice (women murderers rarely hang despite committing some pretty lurid crimes), and attitudes about life (they subscribe to an idea of living with, as John Keats had it, “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” The title comes from an event that began in Arkansas in 1930 and includes a 60-foot turtle race, and the crowning of a derby queen. It illustrates, Reed suggests, the South’s capacity for entertaining themselves with whatever is available. This capacity is celebrated in every piece, as Reed deftly mixes personal reminiscences with facts and local lore.
Engaging evidence that the South is still different.