Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Two Writers, One Voice: The Tilted World

I'm sometimes reluctant to read a book--particularly a work of fiction--that is co-written.  I remember one rather forgettable book that had an inviting plot idea, but the collaboration had gotten in the way. I could almost hear the authors' fingers clicking on the keys, imagine them hammering out a scene--or a compromise.

When The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly arrived in the mail, I didn't have quite the same concerns. First, I was already familiar with Franklin's novels--Hell at the Breach and  Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter--and I was aware that fennel is not only his co-author and an award-winning poet, but his wife as well.

The novel, set in Mississippi during Prohibition in the year of the sometimes forgotten Great Flood of 1927.  The plot introduces Dixie Clay Holliver, a young woman who marries the charming Jesse with his mismatched eyes before she realizes he isn't all he seems.  While he's a successful bootlegger, she realizes she has the skills to be the better moonshiner.  It doesn't take much detective work to realize when he's away from home, he's not spending his nights alone. In fact, when their baby boy dies, she has to summon him from a brothel.

In a second thread of the plot, revenue agents Ham Johnson and Ted Ingersoll are sent to Hobnob, MS, by Herbert Hoover--expected to be the next president of the United States--to discover the whereabouts of two missing agents.  On their way, they chance upon a store after a robbery and find a live baby with his dead parents.  Not willing to leave the child along, Ingersoll (raised in an orphanage himself) promises to catch up with Ham in Hobnob as soon as he turns the baby over to authorities.  In Greenville, though, he doesn't like the alternatives available to the baby and keeps moving, asking until a storekeeper suggests the name of a woman who might want a baby, having lost her own--Dixie Clay.

As the entire efforts of the town are focused on building the levee, trying to hold back the raging Mississippi, the town is split between those who want to save the town and those who want to accept an offer to flood it and move own, taking the proceeds offered.

Reading the story, I rarely had cause to think of the writers at all.  Occasionally, though, a fresh metaphor or a particularly apt turn of phrase reminded me that a poet's hand--or head--was part of this creative process.  The pair's skills blended the way sibling harmony works differently from any other.

 The story was gripping enough that I read at least half of it between two and four in the morning--unable to sleep, drawn to the story, wanting to know what happens next.


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