cover image Eating Mississippi

Eating Mississippi

Scott Ely, . . Livingston, $26 (198pp) ISBN 978-1-931982-64-1

Ely's quirky, humid novel (after Pulpwood: Stories ) tracks two parallel journeys down the Pearl River through Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Robert Day, a grieving, widowed translator, discovers a 19th-century French manuscript by a runaway slave named Octavius Maury in the attic of his Mississippi home. He determines to translate the manuscript while retracing Octavius's journey down the Pearl River. Day recruits three tennis buddies for the trip, and the men float down the river, fishing and hunting turtles for food. Throughout, Day reads aloud from Octavius's memoir, which details how he murdered his master (also his gay lover) in a jealous rage and then took off for Haiti. Ely's rendering of Octavius's account sounds incongruously contemporary, given its 1868 date, and the odd, ad hoc river trip feels especially arbitrary in the early going. Ely strives to up the atmospheric ante as the group approaches the Gulf of Mexico: memories of Day's wife continue to haunt him; the men become increasingly engrossed by Octavius's tale; and they mark their days by strange encounters with river wildlife. The river trip finally ends in tragedy when one of Day's companions goes mad. Ely's stilted exposition makes for awkward execution of what might otherwise be a fascinating conceit. (Nov.)