cover image Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South

Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South

Margaret Renkl. Milkweed, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-57131-184-9

New York Times columnist Renkl (Late Migrations) effectively lifts the lid on Southern culture and challenges its stereotypes in this versatile compendium. Renkl’s essays cover the natural world, local politics, Southern-fried art and culture, and social justice issues from a Nashvillian perspective. Her nature writing shows an impressive predilection for botany and ornithology—in “The Eagles of Reelfoot Lake,” she describes Tennessee’s once-endangered bald eagles and their now-precarious relationship with their local ecosystem, and “Make America Graze Again” describes a local man who takes his itinerant flock of sheep around the city to “manage invasive vegetation.” Her most affecting and passionate writing, however, is on the volatile political climate of her hometown and being a “red-state liberal”—“There Is a Middle Ground on Guns” covers growing up “in a culture where guns are ubiquitous,” and “We’re All Addicts Here” movingly recounts how the opioid epidemic has ravaged her state and casts responses from politicians as “too little too late.” The only drawback to Renkl’s collection is that many of these essays feel like they deserve more long-form elaboration—to break them out of the confines of her column space. Still, this serves as a well-written collection for anyone interested in everyday life below the Mason-Dixon Line. (Sept.)