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One Mississippi
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Group Reads: Moderator's Choice > Moderator's Choice, June 2018: One Mississippi - Final thoughts

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message 1: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
This is where we can freely discuss with spoilers, if needed.

message 2: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
This should be a great discussion, given its timeliness. Here is a review by Diane: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments I had no idea that sweet BFF was going to go off his nut!!

message 4: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
It was the bullying, and feeling like a pervert for who he was. And, as the sheriff pointed out, once you're 18, you can buy as many guns as you want.

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments And what about the teacher who was luring boys to his hotel room? Being black during this time period is an obvious point of thought, particularly after the head injury, but to be gay in that time period is not something that many books focus upon.

We have a long ways to go to accept others as we would have them except us, but things have certainly improved in the last 50 years.

message 6: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
I had a small problem with the results of the head injury to Arnita. I can understand the amnesia, and thinking you're someone else. But to say you're white and believe it even when you can look at yourself and see differently stretched reality a bit for me. I don't know enough about medicine and the brain to argue the point.

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Agreed. I never was able to buy into that story completely, but I have read a couple of books where real cases of head injuries have led to some very bizarre things. Intellectually, I knew that what this young girl was experiencing is possible, but it never felt teal to me

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments As to the over arching believability of the head injury identity crisis (and also the severed head in the Tupperware container traveling to Hollywood in Crazy in Alabama)…

Magical realism is not generally a genre that I like at all, but Childress uses an odd twist on that in his books. The first time I read one of his novels, my husband forewarned me that there were aspects that were pretty crazy but that it was not to be taken too seriously. That helped me get past some of the odd circumstances and enjoy the writing.

I went to high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida which is nearly as south as you can get but definitely not Southern. Hubby Joe is from Amory, Mississippi.. a small town that is not close to anywhere except for a more famous small town called Tupelo where Elvis is from.

Is not was 😜

Childress was born in Monroeville where Truman Capote and Harper Lee were from. I read an interview once where he said that when he was five years old, he was walking along the street when an adult black man was traveling towards him on that same sidewalk. The adult man stepped off of the sidewalk and stood in the street to allow five-year-old white Mark Childress continue on past. He never forgot it and was struck even as a little boy by the absurdity of the unfairness and yet how the man carried on as if it was an every day occurrence.

His family moved around during his childhood, but he ended up in Clinton, Mississippi for his high school years in the late 1960s.

Childress is five years older than my husband, but I asked him if his little hometown in Mississippi had any resemblance to the one in this book and also in crazy in Alabama. Joey said there were definitely elements that were very realistic but were only things he saw from somewhat afar. His parents were fair minded people, but he does remember while his mom was selling real estate that she caught flak for having black clients.

Joey played football, and as usual, sports was a vehicle where everyone was gauged on ability and hard work, not skin color. Over the years, we have had conversations about racial tensions with our friends, and he periodically says that he was 12 years old before he realized that he was NOT black. My blonde husband was struck by the character of the teenage girl in the story. Here was a thing that he had joked about to express to people that while race mattered to the world, it did not matter to him in his childhood - now a mulligan in this story.

Like my husband’s farcical exaggeration - just something to express a point - this plot point was bumpy for me initially, but when I accepted it as a literary device, it worked. Childress’ style always includes some of this absurdity, but like compressing a nosebleed with sanitary napkins or driving across the continent with a severed head in a large Tupperware bowl (burped, of course), these are oddball and nearly comedic counterpoints to the racial issues which the author focuses on in most everything he writes. I'll see if there are some interviews online to stick in here.

message 9: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
Funny, but I had absolutely no problem with the woman in Crazy in Alabama carrying that head all over the place with her. I guess it was so outrageous and funny I just accepted it. That being said, I can see how the author was trying to make a point about racism, how what's inside is more important, but at the same time, denying her race and, more importantly, her parents, meant that she herself believed that being white was superior.

message 10: by Sara (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments Several things that turned me off completely in this book. The racial aspects are totally unrealistic. I was in the public schools in the South the first year of integration. No way a black girl is elected Prom Queen. Most of the black kids wouldn't have even come to the prom. These blacks were brave and outspoken (the band members, speaking up in class). Believe me, in the real world they were outnumbered and mostly quiet. We made friends at school, but there was still a huge divide and initially it was mostly the boys on the football team who really bonded. It isn't what we would like to remember, but it is the way it was. Saying you are using "magical realism" (and I don't see that element in this book at all) does not make anything you can conceive believable.

The end was the better written part of the novel, but it just did not save it for me. Again, it was just a time warp...this is how the modern day kid would deal with it. Tim, in the real 1960s, might have laid wait for Red and Arnita and shot them, but not at school. If he wanted to tell this story, why not set it in a more realistic time frame? Well, because he wants them to think and act like 2007 but he wants them to only have the technology and to experience the poverty of the 1960s.

If any of this was meant to be humor, Childress and I have far too different senses of what is funny to gel. Even the nosebleed, which I got the humor of, just wouldn't have happened. Girls raised in that kind of religious atmosphere would have been embarrassed by the mention of such things, let alone sharing a napkin with a boy. She would have been more likely to have given him her sweater to staunch the flow.

As for the homosexuality, when Debbie tells him everyone knows and it doesn't matter, I winced. Again, no way. She is from the most religious family in town. She might think "it doesn't matter to me" but she would never say it. She wouldn't discuss it. There was a closet and we all conspired to help people stay in it. Believe me when I say "Don't ask, don't tell" existed long before it became an official policy.

While I'm picking bones, I might as well pick this one. Everyone in the North was not an accepting, loving and caring individual either. The premise that being raised in the North made you color blind is false. There was plenty of horrendous racial inequality all over this country...and enough blame to go around. The South had poor white sharecroppers living right next door to poor black sharecroppers. The North had ghettos. I'm not sure they should win the prize for that. The idea that a woman from Chicago, just because she was from Chicago, would openly encourage this boy, who is a stranger to her, to bring a black girl as a date to the concert is crazy. Bull Connor and his group were still operating in the South of this novel. Most people kept a low profile unless they knew who they were talking to. Kissing in public places wasn't done period, interracial kissing, again would have been dangerous and would have definitely been kept for places where they felt secure from being seen.

Childress can write. I am not denying that. But I could never step away from the incongruities of his story to enjoy his writing. He and I are not a fit, for sure, and I will pass on any of his other works.

message 11: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
I agree with all your thoughts, Sara. I would not have finished this book except for the fact that it was my MOD choice, and I felt a responsibility to read to the end. That South was not my South either, growing up. There were too many inconsistencies, and the part where Arnita spent a night in their home, with the blessings of both parents, almost made me close the book right there. Thank you for pointing out the northern aspects of racism. I was just saying the other day, that awful as it is, all the news reports about police brutality all over the country just illustrate that racism is not exclusive to the south, and yet we always get the lion's share of the blame. And racism is not just a black/white issue either.
As far as the ending I don't think it would have happened in 1974, for whatever reason, but it resonated with me because it illustrates so clearly the reasons for, and the ease of, the shootings we are dealing with now.

message 12: by Sara (last edited Jun 04, 2018 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments Exactly, Diane. If the entire book had been set in 2007, I would have had no problem accepting the possibility of every event. And, it would have been unnecessary to have the delusions of being white after the brain injury, which was another stretch for me.

I agree that the ending had impact (which is why I bumped my rating to 2-stars) because he really captured the series of events that lead, in this time, to school shootings. Did he specify that it was 1974? I know when the school year begins we are told it is the FIRST year of integration, which would put it in 1966-67, at the latest. Full integration had happened by that time. If the shooting takes place in 1974, that is another inconsistency that rattles...warp in the time continuum?

I appreciate your response. I always feel bad when I sincerely dislike a book, but the more I mull this one, the less I like it.

message 13: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
Yes, 1973/74 was mentioned in the text as the setting. In our school in NC, integration came in 1970, with exactly 3 black students, who, as you said, kept to themselves. One was on the football team.

message 14: by Sara (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments Interesting. I was in GA and 1967 was the year we had our first black students. I believe there were five. One was a charming young man who was a football player and a very good student, and one of the girls I shared several classes with and remember well. It helps a tiny bit if I move this up in my mind to the mid-1970s, but that is still far too early for the kind of interactions he describes. I think it is pretty amazing and wonderful that an interracial couple will not turn a head today. My cousin married a black man in the 1980s and she endured an awful amount of backlash. BTW, she was living in Connecticut at the time.

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments From an old author interview, about setting books in towns where civil rights had an impact different from the rest of the south.
"The ’60s is. I guess everybody is most fascinated about the time when they were a kid, when you’re coming into consciousness and everything seems larger than life. But the ’60s were pretty extraordinary. I knew I wanted to write about what happened when civil rights took over our little bitty town. That happened in Selma and in lots of little towns as King moved through the South. I didn’t think anybody had ever written that, no one had ever explored what it was like from everybody’s point of view in a little town."

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Sorry...losing tabs here.

Mark Childress's five novels constitute one of the most interesting bodies of work by a contemporary Southern author. Born in Monroeville, Alabama, hometown of Harper Lee and childhood home of Truman Capote, Childress was positioned literally from birth within a specific literary tradition. However, his novels appear far more influenced by the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the compulsively readable narratives of Stephen King (who has enthusiastically endorsed Childress's work) than by William Faulkner or Eudora Welty.

I think his work goes into a similar bucket as Confederacy of Dunces and Lincoln at the Bardo - it either works for you or it does not. I loved the former, absolutely hated the latter! ;)

message 17: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
I'm completely opposite: Loved Bardo, despised Dunces. It's all in the eye of the beholder. Or reader. I still don't think this has anything to do with magical realism, but I will admit that I read with an eye for detail, and if the details don't add up, I'm not a happy reader.

message 18: by Sara (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments I hated Dunces and passed on Bardo. I'm guessing that was the right decision for me.

Faulkner sees the flaws of the south, but he loved it, and that came through for me in his writing. I think Childress dislikes the south and is possibly ashamed to be southern. There is a vibe there, as if he were saying "this is the way those !?*&^ people are, but that isn't ME." Just the feeling I came away with.

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Sara, did you read Crazy in Alabama? I'm wondering if you got that same vibe there. With the protag in this story having grown up in Ohio, maybe some of that 'ugh' attitude toward the south came from him writing from that perspective. It'd be interesting to compare against his other books and see if it still bleeds through!

As for magical realism, I would not have called the talking head in the Tupperware crisper or the girl who confused which race she was as being in that category, but seemingly that's how the critics gauge it. Have y'all read his latest? Or the one about Elvis? There is a lot more absurdity in those books of his - and I guess that's where they start to allot the MR title to the whole volume of his work.

Most of the time, absurdity doesn't much work for me, but if I know going in to expect it (like Joey forewarning me because neither of us like the woooo-wooo stuff), it's good. Upon reading Life of Pi the first time through, the absurdities there were nearly too much to swallow, but by about a third of the way through, I rolled with the unbelievable stuff and ended up adoring his work.

Now I'm curious to check out Childress' more off kilter books.

message 20: by Sara (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments This was my first encounter with Childress, LeAnne. I had no idea going in that he was considered an absurdist. I'll confess that I would have passed immediately if I had. It is not my genre, for sure.

I have come across Magic Realism that works for me...The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Snow Child, but for the most part it doesn't. If I am told that is what it is, it takes a lot to get me to even try it. I just don't have enough years left in my life to be reading a stack of books to find one that I like...I'd rather read something I know has a good chance of engaging me. I'm positive that if I only read books that are great I would still never complete the list before the Lord calls me home. In fact, I'm hoping heaven has a library and when we are through reading the book we are allowed to sit down and talk with the author. I'm anxious to have a chat with Steinbeck, Twain and Mary Stewart. :)

message 21: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
I have a friend that claims her unread books are what keep her alive. She starts every book with a prayer: "Don"t let me die before I finish".

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Diane, our Kirk is hopefully in the most beautiful library imaginable and smiling at our discussions of books in his stack. All friends are special. Reading friends understand us and our joy in books like others can not.

Love chatting with y'all!

message 23: by Sara (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments Amen, LeAnne.

message 24: by Beverly (last edited Jun 05, 2018 01:44PM) (new) - added it

Beverly | 192 comments Sara wrote: "This was my first encounter with Childress, LeAnne. I had no idea going in that he was considered an absurdist. I'll confess that I would have passed immediately if I had. It is not my genre, for s..."

I agree with your philosophy, Sara. I tried to read Crazy in Alabama but I could not finish it . In the past, I have always finished a book that I started and felt guilty if I did not, especially if a friend liked it. However, as I have gotten older I realize I am not going to be able to read all the books on my list and I have tried to pick and choose. Although, it is still difficult for me to leave a book unfinished, I did set up a "did- not -finish" shelf. I have to tell myself that everyone does not have the same taste and that there are plenty of books in the world to read.

message 25: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
I think that's just good common sense, Beverly. I have one of those shelves too. My book club has 11 members, and I don't think we've ever all agreed completely on any book.

message 26: by Sara (new) - rated it 1 star

Sara (phantomswife) | 1390 comments Exactly my story, Beverly. I now have a new rule for me, if it doesn't get me within 100 pages, I am moving on.

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

I have been reading these comments and I can’t stop thinking about them. Mainly because I have never heard of ‘magical realism’ before. Sara mentioned that she read “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” and liked it. I really liked that book too—but since Neil Gaiman is a science fiction/fantasy writer, I expect the weird from him. I’m not sure how I would react to a regular novel that all of a sudden has a talking head in it. I’d probably go along with it for a while, but unless it was really good, I’d probably stop reading it. Genres usually tell you what you can expect, and I guess I like that. Is ‘magical realism’ something new and is it a genre or can it appear in any old book (I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find it in a Stephen Hawking book—at least I hope not).

message 28: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
Kathleen, have you ever read "One Hundred Years of Solitude"? That is magical realism in a nutshell. Not science fiction, or fantasy, rather a suspension of the way we know the world works in order to enter into the story. I never read that type of book knowingly, because I am attuned to details, but every once in a while an author comes along who is a master at that type of writing, and I just follow where he/she leads. Daniel Wallace (" Fish") is another one that comes to mind.

message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

Diana, I have heard of One Hundred Years of Solitude and have wanted to read it. I’ll have to wait a bit, however, since neither Amazon nor Apple have electronic versions of the book—they have plenty of electronic study guides but not the actual book. As a former book collector with a serious problem, I made a vow to my husband to only buy E-books after he hurt himself on a book that had somehow made its way under the covers of our bed 🤓. The Daniel Wallace book sounds very interesting so I think I’ll give that a try. Thanks.

Candi (candih) | 208 comments I just finished this one a few minutes ago, and I'm sorry to say that it flopped for me after the first 25% or so. I actually thought this started out strong and predicted a 4-star read, but I can't put my finger on what happened exactly. The biggest problem, I suppose for me personally, was that I felt like I was reading a young adult novel. Now, I don't despise YA fiction, but I am very particular about which ones will work for me (not many do). Despite the fact I find adolescent issues to be extremely important, I just don't often find reading about them to be particularly engaging. The writing just sort of felt stale for me after a while. The initial humor fizzled out.

As far as whether or not I found this to be realistic based on the time and place - I absolutely could not say one way or the other. I grew up in western New York, was a teen in the 80s, and have remained in New York. I agree 100% though, that issues of racism are certainly not restricted to the south alone. Even today, sadly, I know personally and know second-hand of mainly older adults that grew up in the 60s that to this day continue to be racist here in the northern US, even though they would perhaps claim this to be untrue. These folks may not act on any of these feelings, but conversations reveal their prejudices. These prejudices are not restricted to people of color but to people of other religions as well.

I didn't really get a magical realism vibe from the story. Arnita's state of mind after her accident - at first I didn't realize that she actually believed herself to be white. I thought she was using this for some purpose that had yet to be revealed. When it finally dawned on me that she truly thought this, by then I didn't really think much about it, as I was ready for the book to end.

Reading about the shootings at the end of the book seemed quite timely and relevant, and I suspected that we might head in this direction.

A lot of the teen behavior always seems so remote to me! I think I was a naive young lady living in a smallish town, a quiet kid minding my own business with most people leaving me alone! I wasn't picked on, and I didn't stand out myself. I was a smart kid that wanted to fly under the radar without attracting too much attention, lol. Either the stuff that is written in books is exaggerated to an extent, or I was really out of the loop - ha! Even now, I have 2 teens, and some of these things seem far-fetched to me.

message 31: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
Great comments, Candi. I myself would have put this book aside without finishing had it not been my MOD choice. This book has been on my shelf for a long time, and I loved "Crazy in Alabama", but this one fell way short. I rated it 4 stars immediately after finishing because of the timeliness of the ending, but should have given it a 3 instead. But a lot of people really liked this a lot, so who knows. Maybe it's just one of those books destined to have a wide variety of opinions.

Candi (candih) | 208 comments Maybe it's just one of those books destined to have a wide variety of opinions.

I certainly agree, Diane! It's definitely one to generate much discussion. I am going to take a look at some reviews now that I have finished :)

Vicki | 68 comments I have been interested in this discussion as I seem to have had a totally different impression of the book. I found the book quite enjoyable and a quick read. I think much of my interest is due to my being about the same age as Mr. Childress and the book brought back high school memories. Yes, I thought Arnita being elected homecoming queen was very unlikely in that time period in that locale, but I did not let that get in the way of enjoying his writing. I have read other novels by the author and enjoyed them, including Tender and Crazy in Alabama. If I could suspend disbelief about driving cross country with a head in Tupperware, then I could suspend belief when reading One Mississippi. Thank you for Diane for making this the moderator's choice for the month as that is what inspired me to read the book, along with its availability through my local library. I look forward to reading more books suggested by the group.

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments Vicki wrote: "I have been interested in this discussion as I seem to have had a totally different impression of the book. I found the book quite enjoyable and a quick read. I think much of my interest is due to ..."

Glad to find another appreciative reader! Yes, there was a good bit to this was far fetched - for me it was the neurological complication after her head injury more than being elected queen.

My husband is from a tiny town in north Mississippi, and all four years he was in high school, there were always black girls amongst the homecoming court. He doesn't remember who won in his first three years of school, and it was a white gal that got crowned in senior year, but he said the kids and the adults made it a point to be inclusive. Cheerleaders, class officers, valedictorians, winners of various academic and civic awards, etc were the nominees on homecoming court.

He read this before me and is the one who forewarned me about Childress' tendency for the farout stuff - the stuff the critics call southern magical realism. I'm a science person, not a literary one, so what it's called I honestly don't know. But yeah, I'm with you. When I accepted the head in Tupperware with a wink and a grin, the young lady's insistence on her racial identity after a brain injury was okay too.

This was a five star read for me.

Vicki | 68 comments LeAnne wrote: "Vicki wrote: "I have been interested in this discussion as I seem to have had a totally different impression of the book. I found the book quite enjoyable and a quick read. I think much of my inter..."

Thanks, glad to know I wasn't alone in my appreciation of the book. I also thought the mistaken racial identity was plausible post traumatic brain injury. I thought the author was trying to make a point with this particular plot twist, too, related to the overall point of the book.

Camie | 105 comments I'm trying to figure it out but I enjoyed both this and Crazy In Alabama and I'm not generally a huge fan of humor or books that make you really reach to suspend disbelief. Maybe it's because in the 1970's my prom date actually did wear a sky blue tux, I did watch Sonny and Cher, or I didn't grow up in the South thus I didn't experience desegregation issues etc. firsthand.
I thought it was an easy enjoyable read, of course my other read right now is I Am A Cat. Stories from a cat's point of view translated from Japanese. Homework for World Lit.

Cathrine ☯️  | 747 comments I did not read this but have enjoyed your conversation and can offer up a West Coast version of the black prom queen scenario. Our all white LA suburb/high school was integrated quite suddenly as I recall the year I was a freshman. By the time I was a senior in 1970 the school was fully integrated, young black men were transforming our athletic programs, and racial tensions were mounting. There were black women nominated for princesses on the courts but none had ever been elected queen. That year the office received letters threatening death to any white girl elected queen so it was decided that there would be no queen and there wasn't for either the Fall grid court or the Spring court. After I graduated there were shootings the following year on campus which would have been more shocking but for assassinations of MLK and Robert Kennedy. Gun violence was here to stay.

This group has the best book discussions, just sayin' :-)

message 38: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 4394 comments Mod
We do have great discussions! I'm sure everyone who was in high school in the late 60's and early 70's has desegregation stories, good and bad. It was a volatile time in America, and I wish we could say we learned from it, but apparently not. Big, big, sigh! My bigger problem with believability was Arnita's insistence that she was white, and denying her parents. I know the author was trying to make a point about what's inside is more important than skin color, but to me it was saying that she believed she was superior to her parents and others of "their" race because she was "really" white. That seemed wrong to me.

LA Cantrell | 1324 comments The brain injury was hard for me to swallow too, but that’s just Childress being blatant Not sure everybody read Their Eyes Were Watching God, but in it we learned that there are/were indeed people of color who ranked themselves higher than others because of their semi Caucasian appearance. It was pretty shocking but obviously the author knew her stuff.

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