BACK TO MISSISSIPPI: A Personal Journey Through the Events That Changed America in 1964

Mary Winstead, Author . Hyperion/Theia $22.95 (310p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6796-7

Although Winstead was born into "a family of storytellers" and possesses a promising tale, the pedestrian style and rickety structure of this memoir defuse what could have been a riveting and revealing historical account. The story concerns her discovery of her father's cousin's involvement in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in rural Mississippi. Amid the ragged juxtaposition of bits of research with unabsorbing details of daily life, Winstead's periodic sketches of the victims (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) are often more intrusive than significant. This is also the case with her depiction of cousin Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen, who coordinated the killings and was released in 1967 by a deadlocked state jury. (According to Winstead, his case will be tried again soon, and Mississippi's attorney general has named him as the state's main suspect. He did not talk to Winstead for this book.) Winstead's colorless retelling of growing up in Minneapolis during the 1950s and '60s, with occasional trips to visit her father's Mississippi family, suggests comparison with Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home (2001). Alas, writing one's life does not always mean examining it. Winstead's acceptance of the notion that "most people in Philadelphia [Miss.] believed that the whole thing was a hoax" calls for greater scrutiny of her source, the Meridian (Miss.) Star. Andrew Goodman's mother tells Winstead the event was a very important time in the nation's history, and that for a long time not much was said about it at all. Winstead adds little to that record. (Aug. 7)

Forecast:The recent trial over the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham, Ala., church could pique readers' interest in this book; those who enjoyed McWhorter's masterpiece might pick it up, too.

Reviewed on: 06/10/2002
Release date: 08/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 978-0-7868-8680-7
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