Books by Mississippi Writers 1996-2010
Nonfiction by Larry Brown (Algonquin Books hardcover, $22.95, ISBN: 1565121678, 4/2001; Touchstone Books paperback, $12.00, ISBN: 0743225244, 4/2002) Celebrated for depicting the dark, seamy side of Southern life, Mississippi novelist Brown (Fay; Father and Son) turns to sunnier topics in this loose-jointed collection of essays paying tribute to the people and places that influenced his writing. The title piece, a rueful reflection on son Billy Ray's persistent bad luck with cattle, sets the tone: despite dead calves, misbehaving bulls, rampaging coyotes and dilapidated fences, father and son remain optimistic. "Billy Ray's farm does not yet exist on an earthly plane," writes Brown. "On Billy Ray's farm there will be total harmony, wooden fence rows straight as a plumb line, clean, with no weeds, no rusted barbed wire." As Brown details his own efforts to impose harmony on his farm by building a house ("Shack"), protecting his stock from predators ("Goatsongs"), clearing brush and stocking fish ("By the Pond"), he balances pastoral odes with a clear-eyed accounting of the costs of country living. That realism gives Brown's narratives a plainspoken truth that makes more believable the simple pleasures he takes in these simple tasks. The writer's home life in Oxford, Miss., is more compelling than his chronicles of book tours and writers conferences ("The Whore in Me"), but the latter is kept to a minimum. More successful are the tributes to literary mentors Harry Crews and Madison Jones and to the men who taught him "the fine points of guns and dogs" after his father's death, when Brown was 16. These humble personal essays, which provide a glimpse at the long apprenticeship of a writer who came up the hard way, leave the reader hoping Brown will soon tackle a full-blown autobiography.