The Tilted World

Written by Beth Ann Fennelly Tom Franklin
Review by Jane Kessler

Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly tell the story of a historic catastrophe, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, through the eyes of people in a fictional town, Hobnob. Set during Prohibition, the novel also demonstrates the futility of that “noble experiment” and how it caused normally law-abiding citizens to flout the law and led to corruption at many levels.

The story centers around a bootlegger named Jesse and his wife, Dixie Clay, now a talented bootlegger herself. Jessie is selfish, mean and cruel, the marriage has broken down, and Dixie is haunted by the loss of a baby son. Enter two federal revenue agents, one of whom, Ingersoll, is a decorated WWI veteran and an orphan. They’ve been sent by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover to find out what happened to two other agents who have gone missing. When Ingersoll finds a baby boy orphaned after a shootout at the general store, he feels compelled to find a home for him, which leads him to the bootlegger’s wife. Meanwhile, the rain keeps falling and the townspeople are working day and night to keep the levee secure.

In the Authors’ Note, Franklin and Fennelly mention that “despite being considered by many to be the worst natural disaster our century has endured, the flood of 1927 seems largely forgotten today.” Thank goodness it has not been forgotten by the authors, as they have written an absorbing, suspenseful and richly atmospheric story, which I enjoyed tremendously. The era is evoked skillfully, with no awkward information dumps, yet one feels that one has actually been there and lived through the flood. Most highly recommended.