DON NOBLE: Mississippi Teaching Couple Successfully Tag-Teams 'World'

Article excerpt

In Oxford, Miss., Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly both write and teach writing at Ole Miss.

Tom, a novelist, is best known for "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter," "Hell at the Breech" and other works of fiction containing considerable violence and cruelty.

Beth Ann is a lyric poet and mother of their three children, but almost as well known for "Great with Child," her tender letters to a friend who was expecting. They decided to write "Tilted World" together. All marital projects are perilous, from raising children to choosing wallpaper, but writing a novel?

Writing couples occasionally collaborate, true, but usually it is something like Will and Ariel Durant's "The Story of Civilization," not a novel that is part action thriller, part romantic drama.

They had their doubts. Tom can be a procrastinator, missing deadlines sometimes by many months. Beth Ann is organized, punctual. Could this project succeed? It worked very well, with the two writers alternating chapters.

Here's the set-up: In 1927, April, the Great Flood is threatening. The Mississippi is full to bursting, and it continues to rain. Will the levees hold? Many, especially children, have already been evacuated from the Delta.

Into this scene come Ham Johnson and Ted Ingersoll, revenue agents undercover, reporting to Herbert Hoover, in charge of flood relief. He will soon be president. Their mission is to find a moonshine still out in the country near fictional Hobnob, Miss., north of Greenville, where some very tasty, high-quality whiskey is being made, and find two revenue agents sent before them, who have disappeared and are probably dead.

Ham and Ing are seasoned tough guys, incorruptible. They served together in the trenches in WWI at Verdun. After the Armistice they remained a team, tracking down gangsters, mainly violators of the Volstead Act, which everyone knew in 1927 was on borrowed time.

At a general store near Hobnob they come upon a bloody scene. A young, desperate couple have been shot while robbing the store and their infant baby lies on the floor, now orphaned. Ing will not leave the baby at an orphanage. He learns of a young woman in the country, Dixie Clay Hollister, who has recently lost her child Jacob to scarlet fever. …