I heard of Dispatches from Pluto sometime when I first found out I was placed in Mississippi, it was recommended by someone from TFA, as a depiction of life in the Delta. I had been meaning to read it for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to it.
I finally got around to reading it, courtesy of the Jackson Hinds Library System* and it was a really quick read – it was entertaining throughout.
The premise is that Richard Grant, a British journalist who’s been living in New York, moves to Mississippi with his girlfriend. Before moving there, he experienced the same thing I did when I told people I was moving here: people who had never been here telling me that it would be awful, everyone would be racist, and everything would be backwards. Grant states his purpose clearly, at the very beginning.
One of my hopes in writing this book is to dissolve these clumsy old stereotypes, and illustrate my conviction that Mississippi is the best-kept secret in America. Nowhere else is so poorly understood by outsiders, so unfairly maligned, so surreal and peculiar, so charming and maddening.
He had met a woman named Martha in Oxford years before he moved to Mississippi, and she had told him about the Delta, and tried to take him on a tour of the Delta. Years later, he came down for a tour. He stumbled upon a plantation house in Pluto, and persuaded his girlfriend to move there with him.
The book depicts a sort of exploration of things that are specific to Mississippi. The author goes to Parchman State Penitentiary, discusses the schools in Leflore County and Whitman County Elementary, with some details about the Barksdale Reading Institute and all the work being done to improve that school. The author plays golf with Morgan Freeman and a dentist who worked at Parchman, and covers the campaign for mayor of Greenwood.
I always want to ask people who live in the Delta how realistic they think this is – I know there isn’t a single story of the Delta, but does this book paint a picture that people living in the Delta recognize? Sometimes it seems unrealistic – his story covers a lot of unique people and places, but fails to acknowledge the high poverty rates and the lack of healthcare that many people face in the Delta. Those are likely a more realistic depiction of life in the Delta than playing golf with Morgan Freeman.