Calling himself “a misfit Englishman…with a taste for remote places,” the author of God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre (2008) buys a former plantation house, deep in the Mississippi Delta, and thus commences an education—his and ours.
When journalist and TV host Grant decided to move to Holes County, “the poorest county in America’s poorest state,” neither he nor his girlfriend, Mariah, had ever been to the region. Nonetheless, they bought their place near the Yazoo River in an area called Pluto and immediately begin receiving tutelage from nature and neighbors. The author provides accounts of battles with cottonmouths, armadillos, and biting insects, of deer hunting (Mariah, once a vegetarian, changed her tastes), of struggles with heat and humidity and remoteness. They were stunned to discover the generosity of neighbors, both black and white. The Delta, which is more than 80 percent black, still manifests—as Grant repeatedly shows—many lingering troubles from slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and beyond. Among the most useful early advice he received: compartmentalize. Overlook the noxious opinions of your neighbors; enjoy the good parts. So he and Mariah did precisely that. Throughout the course of the year’s residence that Grant records, he takes us on hunting excursions, to dangerous taverns, a black church, Parchman Farm (Mississippi State Prison), a school that’s doing pretty well (most are not), and a local political campaign. We sit in on visits with local musicians and local raconteurs, whose tales, at times, tend to go on a bit, testing readers’ patience. But the issue that repeatedly emerges—and how can it not?—is race. Continually, we hear the views of locals, the author, and Mariah, and we discover that corrosive racism is still alive and well.
An appealing stew of fecklessness and curiosity, social psychology and social dysfunction, hope and despair.