Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 41.
- Review Date: 2008-08-18
- Reviewer: Staff
In this insightful, laugh-out-loud follow-up to his debut novella, Junior Ray, Pritchard again indulges the profanely backwoods, occasionally backwards, voice of Mississippi “good ol' boy” Junior Ray Loveblood. Formerly deputy sheriff of a Mississippi delta town, Junior Ray is now an aging parking lot guard at the floating Lucky Pair-O-Dice Casino, and an amateur historian. His account of a failed Union naval expedition at Yazoo Pass on the Mississippi River also includes the story of his research expedition, with his friend Mad Owens, to the Magic Pussy Cabaret & Club “up in Meffis.” Among other theories, Junior Ray speculates that peyote ruined Union Lt. Cmdr. Watson Smith's life, that love undermined Mad Owens's and that the strip club saved his own. Each interwoven story is as surprising and strong as Junior Ray himself, who conjures a surreal scene of ironclads logjammed in a bayou as colorfully as he recounts a backroom lap dance from his best friend's granddaughter Petunia. Between expletives and misanthropic digressions, Junior Ray reveals a lifetime of deep, unlikely friendships, even getting at an occasional truth in a humble manner that's—as Junior Ray might put it—“as soft as a quail's fart.” (Oct.)
A wild ride through the past
"History," according to Junior Ray Loveblood, "is an amazing thing. Once I got started, it just more or less begun to write itself." Well, not exactly.
The Yazoo Blues, the sequel to John Pritchard's critically acclaimed debut, Junior Ray, is as funny as it is foul-mouthed, and as insightful as it is infuriating. When we left Junior Ray, he was a deputy sheriff in the sort of town where you expect to find a mutant playing "Dueling Banjos" out on the front porch, but Junior's law enforcement career went off the rails, and he now finds himself patrolling the parking lot at the Lucky Pair-O-Dice Casino.
But our hero's not just any broken-down good ol' boy on the downward slide; he's also a historian. Imagine, if you will, Hunter S. Thompson's taste for the surreal, married to Paris Hilton's academic acumen, all shoveled into Buford Pusser's bod, and you can just bet that hijinks are rarin' to ensue. The subject that holds Junior Ray in thrall is the Yazoo Pass Expedition of 1863, a failed (some would call it doomed) attempt by the Union Army to skulk into Vicksburg via a network of rivers, lakes and swamps that proved inhospitable to Yankees and impassable by ship. (Didn't they know that "Yazoo" came from the Native American phrase meaning "River of Death"?)
And in true gonzo fashion, Ray's journey of discovery takes him (and his comical sidekick, Mad Owens) up to "Meffis"you know it as Memphisand into a gentleman's club, where Mad falls madly in lust with an ex-cop turned stripper bearing the unlikely name of Money Scatters.
Just like a story from Yazoo City's most famous resident, the late comedian Jerry Clower, The Yazoo Blues takes its time getting around to its point, by which time you may not even rememberor carewhat its point was.
If ever a book proved that the joy is in the travel and not the destination, The Yazoo Blues is it. We can only hope that our potty-mouthed philosopher will come back for a third hilarious helping of hell-raising.
Thane Tierney lives in Los Angeles, although he's traveled through the deep South, frequently at high speed.