The Statue and the Fury: A Review

I really wanted to like this book, I really did. I was hoping that Dees had matured since publishing Lies and Other Truths, an ill-advised assortment of self-absorbed musings, and in the respect that The Statue and the Fury does have a premise of objectivity he has, but this premise is simply a jumping-off point for a lengthy exercise in self-indulgence. The Statue and the Fury could well be described as a roman à clef with no need for a key, since the names come one after another rat-a-tat-tat like a perfunctory roll call of characters, encompassing everyone of note in Oxford during the late 1990s and many who are still there.

In reporting on the tempest in a teapot created over cutting of a magnolia on the Oxford Square to make way for a statue, the only character that gets more play than Dees is William Faulkner, said statue subject, who figures prominently on the cover in the company of Willie Nelson, James Meredith, and Myrlie Evers below a vermeil title in an awkward Monty Python-esque montage. We shouldn’t find this depiction surprising, since Faulkner is Oxford’s most important asset aside from the University of Mississippi, and the others are of course Mississippi icons in their own right, even Willie. Dees goes so far as to share his thoughts on Faulkner’s works in a Catherine’s wheel of maritime metaphors, including, “I would direct first-time readers to the novellas in Go Down, Moses or the Snopes trilogy, or, to dip your toe gently in the Faulkner sea, page-turners like Intruder in the Dust or As I Lay Dying.” Not, perhaps, the most perceptive advice, but then Dees with uncharacteristic modesty admits that he is “not any kind of Faulkner know-it-all”. (Indeed.)

Dees can be an engaging personality on air as well as in person (provided you’re not on the wrong side of his toxic wit), but while his writing displays a formidable command of the first person singular pronoun, its sardonic tone is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, even when describing events fraught with high comedy such as Pizza Bob on the stand. In short, the entire work concerns nothing more than a “You had to be there” sort of situation in a feeble attempt at gonzo journalism and the title is either an ill-advised tongue-in-cheek pun or painfully fumbled riff on a Faulkner title. Dees’ Lies and Other Truths as well as They Write Among Us, to which he wrote the introduction, both sold out, and it’s certainly likely that unless an unrealistic number of copies were printed The Statue and the Fury will as well, particularly if everyone mentioned in the book buys a copy.

By dint of his gig as host of “Thacker Mountain Radio”, which no less than Dees himself refers to as the “Grand Ole Opry of literature”, Dees has become a media figure. Given his unremarkable publishing history, what we’re left in The Statue and the Fury is an example of marketing based on the appeal of personality; in a sense, buying Dees’ book is somewhat of the Mississippi equivalent of buying that collection of Kim Kardashian’s selfies. If you are a fan of Jim Dees, you will certainly find this book worth every penny, and if you lived in Oxford during the ‘Nineties, even if you’re not mentioned, you might buy it, too, but sooner or later it’s bound to be available at your local library.

Winter Shrimp

Shrimp usually come to my table with plenty of pepper, but to my mind highly-seasoned foods seem inappropriate for a winter holiday, and dilled shrimp is my favorite alternative. The sauce is simple: one part mayonnaise to one part sour cream (or cream fraiche, if you happen to have some on hand…) with plenty of dill, a hint of horseradish and salt to taste. The shrimp should be boiled briefly in lightly salted water, cooled and if you’re the squeamish sort, deveined. These can be served as a simple salad with lettuce and red onion or on toasted rye.

A Pipe Dream

The corner of Peachtree and Poplar gets sun six to eight hours a day nine months of the year and lies south below a rise that shields it from winter winds. The garden there between the street and an old parking lot is filled with flowers and fruits, butterflies and bees. My hope is for it to become a pocket park, a small public space usually created on a single vacant building lot or on a small irregular piece of land. Too small for physical activities (well, maybe tai chi), pocket parks provide a greenway for wildlife (particularly birds and insects, though you can’t rule out the occasional reptile or mammal ), greenery, a place to sit outdoors and often a venue for the visual and performing arts, if only in the form of a wall and a stage. In upscale neighborhoods, pocket parks are the only option for creating new public spaces of the type that increase neighboring property values. I realize this idea of creating a little park on that busy corner is a pipe dream. All I can do is cast bread upon the waters.

Jamaican Sweet Potato Pudding

Recipes practically identical to this are made throughout the West Indies as well as Bermuda, where it’s traditionally served on Guy Fawkes Night (Nov. 5, which to me seems very much like a cross between Independence Day and Halloween) by royalists as well as those who simply like to set a good table. The texture is fudge-like; very dense and intensely flavorful. You can add grated coconut to the pudding itself, but I find coconut works better toasted as a topping. Mix 1 1/2 pounds cooked pureed sweet potato with 2 cups cream of coconut, 1 stick melted butter, juice of 1 lime and 1 cup brown sugar until smooth. Blend in by spoonfuls 1 cup flour; add 1 cup raisins (optional), 2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg spice. Pour batter into a well-oiled 8-inch cake pan and bake at 350 for about an hour, until firm. Let cool quite thoroughly; it’s best to serve chilled, and trust me the best way to toast shredded or flaked coconut is to toss it in a dry skillet on a high flame, which gives it a great flavor. Top pudding with coconut before slicing; this recipe easily provides a dozen servings.

Tag Along Home, Little Bob

You asked me about the statue in the cemetery, the one of the dog. The statue is on the Guinn family plot. The Guinns are gone now, but they were well-known. Robert Guinn was an attorney who handled mostly small claims, but made a good enough living to buy a house on President Street. He had a lovely wife named Rose and a little girl, Doris. All little girls should be pretty, but Doris wasn’t; her face fused improperly in the womb. There’s a name for the condition that I can’t remember, but it’s a cruel assessment of the divine to say that was God’s will, if you ask me. She was never photographed, but there was a portrait painted, and the artist aligned her features. I saw it long ago; she had dark hair and a shy smile.

Doris in all other respects was a normal little girl; she had dolls and dresses and went to school with all the other little girls on the street. She also had a small dog, a spaniel of some kind that she adored. Her father had given her the puppy when she was five years old, so she named it after him and called it Little Bob. The dog would follow her to school, wait afternoons on the corner for her to come home and stayed with her before she died at twelve.

After that, Little Bob would go to the corner every afternoon and wait; at dark he’d go home until one day he couldn’t, and Bob Guinn went and got him. Oh, there was a big stink about putting the statue of a dog in a Christian cemetery, much less physical remains, but Robert Guinn took it to court and won the right, his finest hour before the bench. So that’s Little Bob, resting at the feet of his mistress; he was a good dog.

Memory Fair

The fence separating our house from the county fairgrounds ran almost two hundred yards north to south along our property and the Becketts’ next door. There were holes through it along its length, some with a path under them, most of them cut either by the older Beckett boys Jerry and Rodney, or it might well have been Bill and Bob Cooper, since they always seemed to be up to something and usually were. It certainly never occurred to me or Tom to cut holes in that fence; we didn’t have to. We never snuck into the fair, either. Honest! Oh, there were plenty kids in the neighborhood who did, mostly boys on a dare, and some who didn’t have the price of admission. We could hear them sneaking through the woods in back of our house, and the dogs would bark until someone shouted from the trees for them to hush and they would, but we had no reason to care. We knew that it was better to sneak onto the fairgrounds after the fair, because you could always find money people had dropped; lots of change and the occasional bill. Tom found a twenty one time and spent it all on comic books, most of them Archies.

The fairgrounds had a big metal barn on the north where the canning, produce and crafts were judged and the civic organizations had their exhibits, and had roofed livestock stalls as well as a little stage in a depression on the east side of the area for shows and pageants. The midway was set on a broad sloping ground about the size of a football field, maybe a little larger, with the concessions in the center and the rides scattered around the periphery, except for the tilt-a-whirl, which always seemed to be in the middle. The Ferris wheel seemed always to be on the west side of the grounds, which meant we could see its lights turning through our windows as we fell asleep on autumn nights. I’ll never forget the year the fair included a one-ring circus and in the mornings we would awaken to the trumpeting of an elephant and the roar of a lion; magic filled the air. Barbara gave us buckets and made us get the elephant poo for her azaleas; the next April her Pride of Mobiles were frothy bonfires of pink and brilliant red.

On these warm still nights in the first week of every October from where I live now nearby the state fairgrounds, when I hear the faint barkers, the sporadic music or the occasional random shout from distant crowd, I’m a child again seeing the Ferris wheel spin above the trees, and for just a little while I’m home again, no longer an old man in a filthy city during a dry month.





Catfish Broiled with Garlic Butter

This is a great way to serve smaller fish. Score and pat whole fish dry with cloth or paper, coat with softened garlic butter, salt, pepper and a mild paprika. Place in a very hot oven until fish flakes easily to the bone. For a milder flavor, you can use finely-minced shallots, but trust me garlic butter with this fish is wonderful.