When I picked up the copy of “The Tilted World” by Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly that I’d been sent, I didn’t know what to expect. I know they say you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this cover had me stumped, looking more like some kind of Sci-Fi portal than a novel set during one of the most devastating real-life natural disasters in American history.
Turns out that it was a kind of portal, just not a Sci-Fi one. This novel, which explores the intertwining lives of an unhappily married young woman, Dixie Clay, and a slightly lost revenuer called Ingersoll, is a testament to survival. Not just basic ‘trying to stay alive’ survival, but survival of the spirit, perhaps the trickiest kind of portal to navigate.
Based during the lead up to the very real Mississippi Flood of 1927, we meet a cast of characters who are almost as soaked through as the landscape. They’re not just heavy with the incessant rain and boot-legged whiskey, each one has their own particular cross to bear. Loss is a distinct theme throughout the story, and we begin to see how their losses lead to the decisions they make as the anticipated, but still unexpected, flood draws near.
The characters themselves are truly wonderful, even the wicked ones, and feel very authentic in their speech and behavior. In some ways they’re vague too, almost like ghosts, but that feel works well with the themes of the novel – what is loss but the ghost of something that once was?
There’s a love story amongst all the drama too, one that you can’t help but feel good about. Watching something sweet and solid emerge from the sticky mud and unreliable relationships is satisfying to the point that you could almost forget about what was to come – the flood. In fact, ‘watching’ is the right word, for at times it seems as though this novel is a film that just hasn’t been made yet.
Apart from the cover, the other thing I was curious about was the fact that there were two authors. Would you be able to tell that there were two people contributing? Would the narrative suffer for it? Turns out that I needn’t have worried at all. It is seamless and beautifully written, the lyrical quality of much of the text making for an evocative but not too flowery read.
I would most definitely recommend this book, it’s one of the best reads I’ve had for a long time. Five stars!
The Tilted World
Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly
William Morrow (2013)
Reviewed by Sarah Widdup for Say What? Savannah Mae (4/14)