A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Present day discussions of Prohibition(1920-1933) refer to it as a failed experiment, a warning against trying to outlaw substances which people think they need for recreation and excitement. Or the period is glamorized, as in the Tv show Boardwalk Empire where women in shimmery dresses and men in fedoras dance to jazz music in swanky clubs while drinking smuggled alcohol. The reality, I suspect, was far closer to the scenarios in The Tilted World , where ordinary people made liquor in stills they hid in woods and caves near their rural homes.
The novel is set in the year when the Mississippi River rose and flooded from months of excessive rain, which Bill Bryson details in his book One Summer:America 1927 . In the tiny town of Hobnob, Mississippi a pair of Prohibition agents arrive searching for some colleagues who disappeared a few weeks earlier and they suspect it’s connected to reports of a moonshiner in the area, Jesse Holliver. As the agents, outgoing Ham and quiet Ingersoll, track down what happened, they run into a robbery gone wrong, where a baby has been left orphaned. They separate in their investigation and Ingersoll meets Dixie Clay, who married Jesse when she was a naive teenager. Their relationship has turned sour, as Jesse is nastier than he first appears and spends most of his time away, supposedly on “business”. But she has taken over the moonshining production, refining the illegal liquor as a matter of personal pride, as much as to divert herself from the loss of her child some months past. Dixie is a likable character from the start, courageous, yet a woman of her time. Ingersoll’s depths are revealed slowly and he blossoms into someone unexpected as events unfold. The interactions of these four people against the mounting danger of the town flooding makes for a riveting story, with moments of genuine suspense, heartbreak and possibility.
The authors have a deft touch with descriptions, making scenes incredibly vivid. The parts during the flood were particularly poignant, I hated what was happening to all the animals and could feel the panic of those creatures. The characters were drawn with more depth than in many novels and we got to know their personalities over time, in a realistic way. And the surprises in the story arc, while shocking, were believable in the way they were presented.
The word unforgettable is over used in reviews, but in this case it’s an understatement. The uncommon setting, strong characters and distinctive prose really do make The Tilted World unforgettable.
William Morrow 2013 336 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0062069191