Richard Grant, a British journalist who moved from New York City to Pluto, Mississippi, a small community deep in the Delta, chronicles his new life there, with each chapter serving as a short story. Even if you don’t usually read non-fiction, I would highly recommend this book. The characters are interesting, the story itself is fascinating, and it is a far cry from some of the dry, non-fiction travel books out there. Grant really highlights the race issues in the Delta (and if you think you understand race issues in America, just read this book; everything is magnified, and the Delta almost feels like another country) in a way that makes me want to read more about that area. I can’t wait to pick up his other books after reading this one!
The Long of It:
I first heard about Richard Grant on Rick Steves’ podcast, Travel with Rick Steves. (If you’re not subscribed to his podcast, you really should be.) He was on the show to talk about Dispatches from Pluto, a non-fiction book chronicling his move from New York City to the Mississippi Delta, specifically an area known as Pluto. As you can imagine, a British journalist living in NYC, uprooting himself and his girlfriend to live in an old plantation house in one of the poorest, most racially segregated areas of the country, is like a fish out of water tale on steroids.
The few stories he told on Travel with Rick Steves were enough to peak my interest. (The charming British accent didn’t hurt, either.) Being from a small, Texas border town, I have a slight obsession with other small towns and the way people live, survive, and cultivate culture in their own little corners of the country.
The book has plenty of lighthearted moments, like dealing with killer mosquitos, the quirky characters, and discovering that winters in the south can be more difficult than winters in the north, but it is the spotlight on race issues that really makes this book stand out. This is not a heavy-handed, knock you in the head study on race, but the issues are so matter of fact in the Delta, in a way that they just aren’t in most other areas of the country, that you can’t help but want to dig deeper into that world.
I couldn’t help but think of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, one of my very favorite books, while reading about Grant’s adventures. There’s not a scandalous murder at the heart of the story, but the characters are similarly quirky and unforgettable, and it is written in such an engaging way that it could be fiction. (And in the hands of the right people, it would make an amazing screen adaptation. Just saying.) If you are a fiction lover who feels like you need to add some non-fiction into your reading life, but have trouble getting into those books, give Dispatches from Pluto a try. I think you’ll love it!