Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant.
“What sort of idiot goes on a picnic and ends up buying a house?”
That is how Richard Grant ends the first chapter of his latest book Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta. Grant, an inveterate traveler, writer, and journalist, has chronicled his adventures exploring “the river of bad spirits” in Tanzania, travelling through the Sierra Madres and following the underground culture of American Nomads. This time, however, Grant takes on a most foreign landscape for this British writer: the Mississippi Delta.
While visiting a friend in the Delta, a region Grant has only read about, he falls in love with a former plantation home which has just come on the market. Grant hurries back to his cramped Manhattan apartment and convinces his longtime girlfriend that a relocation to the Mississippi Delta is exactly the escape route from the hustle and bustle they need.
Grant and his girlfriend, Mariah, instantly find themselves submerged in a landscape and culture completely foreign to that of the New York world they just left. They are astounded by the friendliness and generosity of the people they meet. One neighbor goes so far as to lend the couple furniture to help fill their new rambling home and the use of a car.
As they get settled in their new home, fighting off invasive weeds in their garden patch, a leaky roof, and armadillos that leave the front lawn pockmarked, Grant attempts to understand the culture of his new habitat. He visits blues landmarks as well as his friend and blues legend T-Model Ford. He delves into the murky world of Mississippi politics. Perhaps what Grant finds most perplexing about the Delta is the complicated world of race relations. He meets white people who adore and are devoted to African Americans who work in their home, but refuse to break the taboo of eating with them. He meets people who were virtually raised by black nannies and consider them a second mother, but that individual relationship does not necessarily inform their views of race as a whole. Grant discovers school districts that are essentially still segregated. He plays a round of golf with Mississippi native Morgan Freeman at a country club that is integrated, a rarity in the Delta Grant is told.
Grant and Mariah often find themselves at odds with the views of locals. They are both liberals who believe in control and are living together out of wedlock. However, this is almost never a hindrance to forming strong relationships with the people of the Delta. Grant learns the art of compartmentalizing the views of Deltonians he does not agree with and finds they have much more in common with which they can agree.
Grant’s Delta experience was enlightening, often funny, and always entertaining. I look forward to his next dispatch from a foreign land.
James Downes is a Circulation Assistant with the Alamance County Public Library. Contact him at JDownes@alamancelibraries.org or (919) 563-6431.