A Writer Reads: “Another Good Loving Blues”

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT for Arthur Flowers’ Another Good Loving Blues

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“I am Flowers of the delta clan Flowers and the line of O Killens—I am hoodoo, I am griot, I am a man of power. My story is a true story, my words are true words, my lie is a true lie—a fine old delta tale about a mad blues piano player and a Arkansas conjure woman on a hoodoo mission. Lucas Bodeen and Melvira Dupree. Plan to show you how they found the good thing. True love. That once-in-a-lifetime love.”

“And on that progressive note they walked hand in hand off into the wooded sunset. I’m told they made a good team, I’m told they made a good life together. Now I’m not saying they didn’t have their share of life’s little trials and tribulations, and your definition of happy may be different from mine, or theirs, but my understanding is that Melvira Dupree and Lucas Bodeen found the good thing.

“And they lived happily ever after.

“The end.”

From the first and last pages of Arthur Flowers’ Another Good Loving Blues, 1993

My Honors class, “Voices of Mississippi,” just finished Arthur Flowers’ book, and a question posed to us in class last Thursday asked about the abruptness, even almost absurdity, of an ending like that. Is the narrator reliable? Did Lucas and Melvira live happily ever after? Why wrap it up that way, why the last two lines, why?

Why, indeed.

Samantha doesn’t believe they lived happily ever after, because love is just not that simple, and throughout the book the characters’ relationship wasn’t simple. “It’s too Hollywood,” she said. I see her point.

I believe they did have their happily-ever-after because that’s what I want to believe, and that’s what the narrator implies, no matter how reliable he is or isn’t. Because sometimes a reader just wants a happy ending, and since one is given on the page, what’s wrong with that?

The rest of the class didn’t voice specific opinions, and there was a lot of back and forth, and a lot of trying to dig into the text in other places, and most of what was said wasn’t important enough to stay with me.

But…from a writer’s perspective…whywould Arthur Flowers wrap the story up in this way? What does it even mean?

On the surface level, I think Arthur Flowers believed that Bodeen and Melvira had their happily ever after. We actually briefly video-chatted with Mr. Flowers in class last week, and I just realize now, I should’ve asked him myself. But I didn’t. But…I think he ended the story that way because for him, it was true. And I think he ended the story that way because that’s how he intended to do it.

Maybe he ended the story that way to make people like me and my classmates debate about why he ended the story that way.

On a slightly-below-the-surface level, I think Mr. Flowers wrote those last three paragraphs the way he did because that was the only way he could do it, as in how I was told, “Let the story go where it wants to go.” I think he wrote it because that is how the story wanted to be written in the end, and if you don’t know what I mean by that, then, sit down at a keyboard and see what comes out of you. When you weave words together into a story with no step-by-step-detailed plot plan in mind, then that is letting the piece write itself, and that tends to be the best way to write something, to get it out on the page before you can go back to edit and revise. I don’t know whether Mr. Flowers edited and revised this story—he probably did, but even if he didn’t, to keep that ending has to mean, in some way or other, that it’s the ending the story wanted for itself, therefore, the only right ending.

But I’ll still let Mr. Flowers be the judge of that.

Personally, if I were writing the story—no, I probably wouldn’t have ended it quite the same way, and that can be attributed to my style of writing. I’ve never read anything else by Arthur Flowers, so I wonder too if this is his style. That can also be part of it.

I should’ve asked him.

It’s a good book, and I do recommend it. If you decide to read it, please, check back in with me here and let me know what you think of the ending. Do you believe it?

Wednesday and Thursday, 3.15 and 3.16.2017

We visited Clarksdale yesterday, a city significant to the history of blues music, particularly in the Delta, I think. Professors Chris and Chanelle organized a scavenger hunt for us to complete, and I will admit that it’s a neat idea for seeing the city, but I would have preferred not to do it, because it was harder to get acquainted with and enjoy the town while on a time limit. The items on the list?

  • Mississippi Blues Trail markers: WROX Radio Station, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, The New World neighborhood, and the Riverside Motel
  • Photo of Robert Johnson
  • Recording of someone in your group (cabin) eating and describing a hot tamale
  • A story told by a citizen of Clarksdale
  • A record from Cathead records store
  • A recording of a group member reading our Arthur Flowers book in “the bluesiest place you can find”
  • One of our syllabus books in the Carnegie Public Library
  • A recording of a group member singing the blues next to the Sunflower River

The hardest two were the hot tamale and the Riverside Motel, the latter of which ended up being struck from the list because it was closed. The hot tamale, however, still had to be completed and we were told by somebody at Cathead to go to Larry’s Hot Tamales, which turned out to be the furthest away, and in a part of town that felt rather sketchy, particularly to my group of us four girls, until we caught up with the guys from Palo Alto, and they walked us to and from the tamale shop.

We tallied up the results at dinner, and Palo Alto was the winner, followed by Tush Hog and Nellie—that’s my cabin—tied for second! Woo! (I was sure we were going to lose when each cabin presented their stories and videos.)

Dinner was actually even more interesting, because this was Nellie’s first communal meal to prepare, and as I put it while running around, “Communal dinner became communal cooking!” See, we decided to cook chicken and beef fajitas because it’s simple and can easily feed the 15 or so people, but…let’s see, Sam says she cannot cook rice (so we joked she’s a bad Latina), so we enlisted the help of Santiago, who cooked the delicious rice for our first communal dinner. But, even then, the first batch was burned, so we had to start over, though I managed to salvage most of it, because only the bottom was really bad. Then, we went to bake the chicken, but apparently the oven in our cabin does not work, so Sam and I raced some salted and peppered chicken on a cookie sheet over to Palo Alto’s cabin to use their oven. We set another pot of rice on, and Santiago prepared another in his cabin, and meanwhile Cristina and Ramsha chopped the peppers and onions, Cristina cooked the beef, and while I was inside, I was more or less on dish duty. (Fun fact: I actually do not like doing dishes, and especially not without rubber gloves, but we had a pile in the sink so I just sort of went in there and went to work!) That ended up being where I could help the most, since I don’t know how to really cook much beyond pancakes and spaghetti. Overall, though, our communal fajitas were successful, and were mostly finished at lunch today!

This morning, after breakfast, we drove the thirty minutes or so from Tallahatchie Flats to the town of Glendora to see the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center (E.T.H.I.C.). As I mentioned before, this innocent 14-year-old’s story is what has affected me most this week, and the Center touched on that more than I thought possible, because it gave so much more detail about the case, eyewitness accounts, evidence, and as I walked through the museum and read the signposts describing the story, I loved the amount of detail because as a writer I love a good storytelling, but I hated that the story is true and rooted in a very long history of American hatred. I hate that if I walk down a street alone and I see a black man, I immediately feel wary. Granted, I am a petite white female and a white man can have the same effect on me because of how little I am, but, I think maybe there is still some sense of…not racism, but of difference, and I don’t like how that feels. I don’t like that it’s ingrained into our society, and I know I’m not racist; I have black friends and Asian friends and Indian friends and Muslim friends and more, and they are all wonderful people I would never wish any harm upon. But…why? Why, societally or not, does there have to be any sense of a difference?

It is worth acknowledging that we ended the afternoon on a more positive note. After a lunch of leftover fajitas back at Tallahatchie Flats, we visited the B.B. King Blues Museum in Indianola, and I don’t know a lot about the blues and I know even less about B.B. King, but I liked the experience there. I took a lot of photos.

A 5:30 p.m. reading by Michael Knight at TurnRow, and then dinner in Greenwood. Tomorrow, breakfast is on us, and then we pack up and take off to Jackson. We’re spending our last night in Mississippi at the Quality Inn in Jackson; Ramsha and I looked at each other and, at the same time, “I hope they have quality bathrooms!” 😂