Garden & Gun contributor Julia Reed chronicles her adventures through the highs and the lows of Southern life: the Delta hot tamale festival, a masked ball, a rollicking party in a boat on a sand bar, scary Christian billboards, the southern affection for the lowly possum, and other phenomena.
Move aside, bourbon. Reed prefers scotch in her highball. Her essays defy Southern stereotypes page by page (no odes to whiskey here) and illustrate the lush, hot, menacing world of the Mississippi Delta. Her unique persona and voice rise above all the best attempts to compare her to other writers. She’s the perfect literary ambassador for the South, its idiosyncratic style of entertaining, and its memorable mannerisms ... Weaving disparate subject matter with humor, surprise, and playfulness defines Reed’s style ... This might be Reed’s guiding prompt for her essays: Take an interesting, often overlooked Southern subject, explore it with specific detail and research from multiple lenses, and write with a singing style ... Her humor, sensory detail, and deep concern for the place she loves resonate page after page.
There’s precious little here on the Appalachian hill country and North Carolina barely rates a mention. Still, covering New Orleans and Zydeco country is a tall order, and Reed does a masterful job of it ... Food and beverage are her specialties, and her essays on the topic are among the best. She reports on alligator cuisine (yes, it really does taste like chicken, apparently) and on the Delta’s somewhat unexpected culinary specialty, the hot tamale. I wouldn’t put Reed in the same caliber with the great Florence King (Southern Ladies and Gentlemen), but she’s witty, charming and observant, and she’s clearly good company.
Garden & Gun contributor Reed’s latest paean to southern culture is loving in the way of a parent indulging a capricious child. Yet the way she brings this same perspective to the greater human condition is shrewd and imaginative. One need not be of the South to appreciate her wisdom and wit, for Reed’s is an expressive and enthusiastic voice for humanity everywhere.