Across the Bridge - October 2020
- by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
Remember cool kids in high school? I didn’t run with them; usually ran from them.
But I recognized one when I saw him or her, and damn, how I wanted to be acknowledged. If Steve Murphy or Lee Gross or Adeline Compton had invited me to hang out I would have ditched the Latin Club and Glee Club and the newspaper staff and gone off to loiter in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen in free period.
They spoke a different language. The girls usually had board-straight hair, and the boys smoked behind the shop building. They dated one another. They knew what to wear and how to wear it. Their weekends were mysteries to me but I assumed unsupervised.
Across the Bridge
is sponsored by
I figure I was 57 years old before a Cool Kid even saw me. And that was Jim Dees, the host of Thacker Mountain Radio in Oxford, the coolest person I know and the author of this cool book, The Statue and the Fury. Jim has been emcee of Thacker Mountain for 20 years and has met writers you’ve read and musicians you’ve heard of. He is glib and prepared and funny. He is cool.
He was more than simply gracious that nervous night in 2009 when by some stroke of good fortune I was on the live radio program. He was downright generous in his introduction of me and my book.
But that’s not why I’m about to rhapsodize about his. Absolutely not. I love this book, published a few years ago but timeless, because it is the exact opposite of most books that usually sell thousands of copies in Mississippi. It is a book about a town where the author actually lived for more than 20 minutes, still lives.
Jim Dees knows Oxford. He knows the place the way only someone who worked for the local newspaper can know a town. He didn’t parachute in to write about some big story or another, or to troll for convenient small town characters. He lived it.
It’s structured around one year, 1997, the year that the town decided to honor its most famous citizen, William Faulkner, by erecting a statue of the literary giant. That’s when, as Jim puts it, “all Faulkner broke loose.”
The central story is riveting, and at the time I was writing columns for the Atlanta newspapers and took a position I’ve since regretted. That’s what happens when you editorialize about places where you don’t live. I knew and liked the mayor, John Leslie, who got rid of a magnolia in front of City Hall to put the statue there. I declared that Oxford had many magnolias but only one Faulkner.
It was more complicated than that, of course. Jim’s book examines all sides of the controversy, including the perspective of the sculptor caught in the middle. But mostly it’s the fine writing of this author who knows Faulkner, journalism, raw humor and Oxford.
I don’t want to reveal too many of the ups and downs of the statue story, because I want you to rush out and buy the book. Pass Books has them. Out of the goodness of his heart, Jim Dees is coming to the Pass to speak to a book club. So buy the book and decide for yourself if this isn’t funnier, deeper and more bona fide Mississippi than anything you’ve read in a while.
Oh, yes, and lots cooler.
The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails
The Nautilus Publishing Company