By: John Pritchard
Reviewed by: H. F. Lippincott
NewSouth Books, 2008
John Pritchard has followed his first novel Junior Ray (2005) with the further adventures of his eponymous hero in The Yazoo Blues. The place is the Mississippi Delta, south of Memphis, along Route 61—a place of levees, oxbows, and now casinos built over water. The charming but foul-mouthed hillbilly hero, retired as sheriff’s deputy—he insists he’s a “law-enforcement professional”—now works parking security at a casino. Gone is the unsuccessful search for a shell-shocked veteran of World War II of the first book, along with the somewhat tedious excerpts from the soldier’s diary. Now the picaresque adventures are more wide-ranging, exploring the sexual peccadilloes of modern Mississippi and Memphis residents. Junior still has his sidekick Voyd Mudd, often the butt of the joke, and a new friend Mad Owens, who introduces him to the girlie bars in “Memfis” and to a camp on Horn Island in the Gulf.
The central part of the book is a retelling of the Yazoo Pass expedition, the attack of Yankee ironclads in 1863 on Delta-region rivers. Prominent in the account is a Confederate spy, Anguilla Benoit (“Angwilla B’noyt”), who feeds peyote to the Yankee commodore and seduces the first officer. Meanwhile, ambushing rebel soldiers drop onto the Yankee ships from overhanging trees, and escape up into the tree tops on board paths. As an amateur historian, Junior is able to tell this story because he is given “Z-rocks” (Xeroxes) from the library. The hilarious episode is in the best American, tall-tale tradition.
Pritchard, a college English teacher, belongs to the non-genteel branch of southern letters, with the profanity factor unusually high. The shock of the taboo words is softened by respelling them in a rich—and ingenious—Mississippi Delta dialect. An “R” rating still holds, however, both for the insistent rough language and for “adult” situations. Polite ladies’ reading groups will probably not be interested. Good ol’ boys and girls will have a good time. Nov 08
H.F. Lippincott is retired from the teaching of English and French.