A Mississippi native returns to the South to revel in the “typically jarring contradictions” of Dixie.
Garden & Gun contributing editor Reed (Julia Reed's South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long, 2016, etc.) logged time in newsrooms up North, but she found it necessary, in time, to get herself back home. Even though “it’s hot as hell, the mosquitoes are murderous, and we all might be half crazy,” there’s something about the region that can’t be bottled up and carried away. In this scattering of essays, the author hits on some of the high points and plenty of the low, perhaps the lowest being the whole Honey Boo Boo thing, which a friend of hers characterized with rough poetic justice as “Peckerwood Mayhem.” For her part, Reed wryly notes the oddity of the fact that the show appeared on a network once called The Learning Channel. The author demonstrates an indexical bent, enumerating the things that make the South what it is: the highest incidence of diabetes, a still-high number of cigarette smokers, “the most violent crime, the most guns, and the most shooting deaths.” In all this, she paints with a surprisingly broad brush given that the South is really a concatenation of Souths: Virginia is not Alabama is not Texas, despite some shared rounded vowels. Reed makes for a knowing commentator on debutante balls, pecan pies, and the relative merits of Scotch versus bourbon. Still, the collection sometimes hangs together too loosely, as if an excuse to pull together Reed’s columns from her magazine. There’s nothing terrible in it, but the disquisitions on such things as whether women should carry flasks (“they are also crucial to have on hand in times of stress, duress, or just plain boredom) and a playlist of Southern tunes (featuring, natch, “Sweet Home Alabama”) seem to be mostly filler.
A mixed bag but useful for explaining the South to Yankees—and perhaps to some Southerners, too.