Reviewed by Ronnie Zuege
In Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, travel writer Richard Grant explores the Delta, in a state synonymous with racism, ignorance and cultural backwardness. Grant wanted to see for himself and perhaps dispel these stereotypical views.
He buys a plantation home in great need of repair, experiences Southern hospitality at its finest and in a series of missives provides a sympathetic and insightful views of Pluto, one of the poorest areas in the poorest of states, Mississippi. He deals with critters and weeds, heat and cold temperature extremes and the deep cultural conservatism of the South. Grant’s style is easy-going, often humorous and always non-judgmental.
He tells stories of friendly neighbors, deer hunting, and a crazy murder for hire scheme. He relates a golf outing with Morgan Freeman, a fund-raising BBQ and blues party, and of the bonds of friendship between blacks and whites.
He visits a prison in Parchman, a “word still laden with dread,” towns with unusual names- Hard Cash, Hushpuckena, and Panther Burn, where businesses and populations are in decline, stores that serve as multi-purpose businesses, such as Sno-Cones, Fireworks and Gravestones in Belzoni, and the juke joints on long, empty roads, fifty miles from anywhere.
Grant explains the poverty, the demise of the catfish industry and the disgraceful state of public education. He discusses politics and corruption, crime, drug and alcohol abuse.
Trying to understand race relationships seems to be Grant’s serious aim. Race permeates every aspect of life in the Delta, however, Grant makes no summarizing statements because there are no simple explanations. But the reader does get an understanding about the interaction of blacks and whites, not necessarily good or bad, simply the way it is.
There are two copies of Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta in the Coronado Center Library, purchased specifically for an HSV book group. The members of that group had an engaging discussion and rated the book an 8 out 10.
Winner of the
Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize
Mississippi’s #1 Bestseller of 2015 and 2016 (The Clarion-Ledger)
A New York Times Bestseller