Books
11:48 am
Mon June 22, 2009

Yazoo Blues, by John Pritchard

This novel is a lascivious, sex-filled, dirty comic routine. It's not for everyone, but if you can stand it, there's a laugh on every page.

John Pritchard's second novel once again features good ole boy Junior Ray. In Yazoo Blues the convention is that, once again, on tape, Junior Ray is telling us the story. Some readers will remember Ray from Pritchard's first novel, Junior Ray, in which he set out to kill the crazed WWII vet Leland Shaw, who was hiding out in an old silo, and in the course of things, Junior actually discovered a German submarine, in the mud of the Mississippi Delta.

Ray was for most of his career a deputy sheriff. He is now a parking lot security guard at a casino, but as he says, it's still law enforcement.

Ray has some new stories to tell in Yazoo Blues. A budding, if aging, historian, he has developed an interest in the Civil War, most particularly, the Yazoo Pass expedition, the attempt to attack Vicksburg, by ship, from the northeast, by coming down the Yazoo River, which is after all, the Delta we are all talking about. Junior deduces that older men often develop an interest in history because they are about to become part of it. Seems right.

Junior Ray's speech makes the comedy routine of George Carlin sound like the dialogue from The Sound of Music. Ray's language, and he is speaking, remember, is the most politically incorrect, uncensored, profane, obscene, irreverent, that you have ever seen on paper. Almost no sentence can be quoted in its entirety. If I tried on radio the FCC would be on us. If I quoted in print, the redacted text would look like a newly released document from the previous administration. The language is relentlessly profane and, if you can stand it, relentlessly funny. It is not disgusting or sleazy, and it is authentic--very much a part of the natural speech of Junior Ray, good ole boy. He tells his stories in his own way, like Huck Finn in his sixties, without Mark Twain's wife editing the product.

Junior Ray has become fascinated with history, most precisely the attempt to get a Union fleet into Moon Lake, and then finally, down the Yazoo River. Winston Groom deals with this failed attempt at capturing Vicksburg in his recent history, but Junior Ray has another theory. In Ray's version, Lt. Commander Watson Smith, chief of the naval operations, took on board and was seduced by Miss Anguilla Benoit, a kind of Confederate Mata Hari, who, at their daily tea party, put powdered peyote into Smith's tea. The peyote, his debilitating lust, along with what we think was his syphilis, affected his judgment, shall we say.

The expedition was doomed anyway. The alligator- and mosquito-infested Delta itself, without human defenders, was too tangled to be sailed through, by canoes, never mind 200-foot ironclads and troop ships. It was a catastrophe. Ray says, "Even today, with most of the trees gone and paved roads runnin' off everywhere, outsiders visitin' the Delta still have a hard time understanding that they're in the United States." Ray believes the Delta itself will make a person crazy.

The other story Ray has to tell concerns his friend Mad, Madison Owens, a philosopher who falls in love with Miss Money Scatters, a stripper, pole dancer, lap dancer at a Memphis "Cabaret and Club." Madison, something of a Platonist, wished to be a true lover, to love the person she was, the ideal of the person, not what she "did." This worked for a while until Madison finally came to understand what she in fact "did" back in the VIP room of the club. Then he went to live as a hermit on Horn Island in the Gulf of Mexico.

This novel is a lascivious, sex-filled, dirty comic routine. It's not for everyone, but if you can stand it, there's a laugh on every page.

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