Deep South thriller unfolds in 1927 flood
By Kendal Weaver
Published: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 6:24 p.m.
“The Tilted World” is a captivating Deep South drama that unfolds in the spring of 1927 as the rising, roiling waters of the Mississippi River head toward an epic and catastrophic flood.
It also is a beautifully written, smartly crafted thriller that offers many delights, among them its hard-luck heroine, Dixie Clay, a fetching young woman who ends up on the wrong side of the law against bootlegging.
Her counterpoint is Ted Ingersoll, one of two federal revenue agents who arrive in Mississippi Delta moonshine territory on a Prohibition-era mission. Amid incessant rain and wind, as well as fears that an imperiled levee may be ripped by dynamite, Ingersoll will find much more than white lightning on his path.
That includes a newly orphaned infant named Willy, whose fate becomes as uncertain as Dixie Clay's.
Written jointly by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, a married couple who live, write and teach in Oxford, Miss., the novel is a page turner with witty historical asides, including an early appearance by then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, who is riding the great flood to the White House.
With romantic twists and tense scenes that make it hard to put down, the book is a pleasure to read. The writing is deft and memorable, at times potent with emotional punch.
That's to be expected. Its authors have won notable praise, Franklin for his fiction, Fennelly for her poetry. His previous novel, “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,” also in the “Southern Noir” or “Southern Gothic” vein, won the 2010 Los Angeles Times prize for best mystery-thriller. Her first book of poems, “Open House,” won the 2001 Kenyon Review Prize for debut poetry.
“The Tilted World” was suggested by their agents, the husband-and-wife team of Nat Sobel and Judith Weber, as an expanded version of Franklin and Fennelly's collaborative short story, “What His Hands Had Been Waiting For.”
Collaborating on a novel might seem to create prickly problems, but Franklin and Fennelly write almost seamlessly, rarely allowing the rhythm of the narrative to shift when the writer's baton is passed from one to the other.
The 1927 Mississippi River flood was one of the country's worst disasters, but was little-remembered until John Barry's 1997 book, “Rising Tide,” captured its historic impact. In fiction, the Mississippi master, William Faulkner, used the flood as the backdrop for his short novel “Old Man,” which he wrote in alternating chapters with a distinctly different short novel, “The Wild Palms” — a kind of collaboration with himself using two contrasting voices.
In the Deep South suspense genre, “The Tilted World” is a worthy addition to the literature of the 1927 flood.
Kendal Weaver is a staff writer for the Associated Press.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.