On-the-Road Novel Features "Delta Pinks," Not Blues

"Ranchero" by Rick Gavin
Reviewed by David Marshall James

A repo man, making a house call over a plasma TV, gets knocked upside the head with a fireplace shovel by a tag-team couple of Mississippi Delta crackers.

Worse yet, Mr. and Mrs. Saltine make off with Nick Reid's bad ride, a 1969 Ford Ranchero, with a calypso-coral (read: tropical pink) paint job.

Even further and worse yet, the slap-happy-mobile is a loner from Nick's landlady, Pearl, by way of her deceased husband, Gil. Not that Pearl sexes out on the flat Delta roads in the Ranchero; no, she prefers a very staid Buick.

She's loaned the Ranchero to Nick on account of his aged Chevy Nova's having a bad day.

Pearl is a real Zen kind of lady. She wouldn't care if she never saw her late husband's car again. After all, it's been sitting on blocks in the garage under Nick's apartment for so long that the tarp has rotted.

However, Nick sees recovering the Ranchero as a point of honor-- and an escape from the monotony of the Delta Blues to the Delta Pinks, as it were-- so he pursues the thieves with a fellow repo-er, Desmond, a well-proportioned (read: huge) black guy who's Zen, too, but more in the ex-Oxycontin-addict manner than in Pearl's "resigned Southern widow with a no-count son who picks her pocketbook" fashion.

Desmond really reaches his Zen at the Sonic, meticulously applying condiments to his Coney foot-longs. Just as the late Christina Onassis was such a devotee of Coca-Cola that she could discern the bottling plant of origin, Desmond can tell you that the Sonic in Indianola differs from the Sonic in Yazoo City.

Foot longs as needed, Nick and Desmond are off to rescue the Golden (well, Pink-en) Fleece.

To win back Helen of De-Troy-t.

Desmond is possessed of major car empathy, as his ex-spouse, Shanica, wrangled him out of his beloved Escalade, then proceeded to trash it up, literally and with trashy men.

Debut novelist Rick Gavin crafts a frequently guffaw-inducing quest up, down, and across the Delta, from Greenville to Greenwood to Nitta Yuma (not to be confused with Itta Bena).

Appropriately, Gavin tunes in the literary spirit of William Faulkner ("The Reivers"), with a Eudora Weltyan sense of the (Mississippi) outlandish ("Why I Live at the P.O." and "The Petrified Man").

As down-to-earth as a fieldstone piling beneath a Delta shack, "Ranchero" delights with every unexpected turn of its swervy, curvy, topsy-turvy path.

Gavin's follow-up novel, "Beluga," will be published in October. Give "Ranchero" to your guy, then swipe it for yourself. Or, just give it to yourself.