Spelling Mississippi (eBook)
From an acclaimed short-story writer, a blazingly intelligent and humorous debut novel that is set in New Orleans and tells the story of two strangers whose paths first cross on the remarkable banks of the Mississippi.
Cleo, a Canadian on holiday in New Orleans, is sitting alone in the French Quarter late one night, dreamily watching the river’s lazy progress. Suddenly, a woman clad in full evening dress, from rhinestone tiara to high heels, takes a running leap off the wharf into the Mississippi. Cleo watches, astonished, then turns and runs, mistakenly assuming the jumper is dead — a suicide.
But Madeline, it turns out, is not bent on suicide. She is irresistibly drawn to water, as is Cleo, who was conceived during the great flood in Florence in 1966. Perhaps it is this shared obsession with the murky depths that fuels Cleo’s determination to find Madeline. She pounds the quaint streets of New Orleans, city of cheap bourbon, rich turtle soup, the scent of magnolias and A Streetcar Named Desire.
Spelling Mississippi is filled with all the bristling energy of Fall on Your Knees. Told with great humour and affection, it is a seductive, liberating story about ties that bind and those that simply restrain, and a lesson not in spelling but forgiveness.
About the Author
Marnie Woodrow was born in Orillia, Ontario, in 1969. As an only child, she found that writing came naturally to her at a young age, as a way of using her imagination to entertain herself. “I’ve always written stories,” she has said. “As soon as I figured out how to write a sentence, I started doing picture books.” It’s not surprising, then, that she progressed to publishing her stories at an early age. Woodrow’s first book, a collection of short stories entitled Why We Close Our Eyes When We Kiss, was published in 1991 when she was 22 years old. Her next book of stories, In the Spice House, was published in 1996, and garnered even more praise.
But despite her early successes, Woodrow is no stranger to taking on interesting jobs in order to support her writing. In between her earlier collections and Spelling Mississippi, Woodrow worked at various times as a dishwasher, a theme-park moose, and a bookseller -- the last of which was perhaps the most difficult to manage during the writing process. “I was working full-time in a bookstore, watching tons of books go by. Everyone says, ‘Isn’t it great to work in a bookstore?’ and it is, except when you’re trying to write a book yourself.”
For Woodrow, there were two prime inspirations for the story that became Spelling Mississippi. First, there was the image of the child that would become Cleo in this novel, inspired by a 1966 photograph of flood workers in Florence. For Cleo, who carries with her a copy of the National Geographic magazine it appeared in, this event is doubly important: not only was it during the flood that she was conceived, but also the work in Florence is one of the few things she knows her mother had a passion for. Woodrow, who came across such a photo, wondered what a child of a flood worker would be like as an adult.
The second inspiration for this novel was New Orleans itself, a city in which Woodrow spent three and a half months after leaving university, and a favourite place to which she has returned since -- for both research and pleasure. There, Woodrow not only met fascinating people and discovered a lush setting, but came across the basis for the character of Madeline: “I was intrigued by the idea of someone swimming across the Mississippi, because it’s dirty and rough.” The first image that hit her was of a woman coming out of the water fully dressed. And then, thinking her story along, she wondered what two women could bring to each other’s lives if they were brought together in a single moment, and what could come of their gradual and fateful rejoining: “There’s no real ‘reason’ for two such people to meet, yet they do, and the profound simpatico they feel comes as a surprise to both of them. I wanted to explore their journey toward one another just as much as the meeting…. I was preoccupied with the notion that people can haunt each other indefinitely, for so many reasons.”
But once she thought about the story, and what it could become, Woodrow knew that the material she was working with was too much for short fiction, and it was then that she decided to write it as a novel. Five years and a hot bidding process later, Spelling Mississippi was published by Knopf Canada as a part of their New Face of Fiction program -- a program geared to publishing new Canadian writers with distinct voices. The process was far from easy, and one thing Woodrow would certainly change next time around was her dependence on her computer: she has often mentioned in interviews that one of her worst enemies was the “delete” key. She would start, and then “delete, delete, delete,” and then regret losing those precious words later on. Next time around, she says, she’ll try long hand.
Since its Canadian release, Spelling Mississippi has found a worldwide audience. It has been published in the United Kingdom and the rest of the Commonwealth, and will soon be published in Sweden. And for Woodrow, the sharing of stories is what’s most important, in both this novel and for being a writer, so this is wonderful news: “For me, it’s about what people bring to each other’s lives in terms of stories and experiences and how, when you bring these stories together, there’s an alchemy…” Her next projects, including a screen adaptation of Spelling Mississippi, a young-adult novel, and a second novel for adult readers, will prove just how wide her audience can become.
Praise for Spelling Mississippi…
"An affecting tale of one woman's immersion into the gloriously decadent city of New Orleans." -- National Post
“The hype around Marnie Woodrow’s debut novel is justified…. Spelling Mississippi is a spellbinding tale. New Orleans is where it happens -- that sultry, blues-ridden city -- and Marnie Woodrow is a writer who knows how to conjure up a setting…She’s a terrific writer, and her wonderfully wry sense of humour enhances Cleo’s journey…. Spelling Mississippi is the book to read this season and Woodrow, with two story collections behind her as well as this fine novel, is the writer to watch.” -- Vancouver Sun
“Spelling Mississippi begins with a visually stunning drama that lingers ‘like the ghost scent of fine perfume’ over all the pages to come…. The narrative shifts smoothly between Cleo and Madeline, suspensefully unfurling their pasts, troubled childhoods, backstories ripe with longings and secrets, like the mini-cities of the dead, haunting the present…. Woodrow is a delicious tease, offering cool quenching sips of information, but spiked with intrigue. The story swirls compellingly on, at times funny, wise, erotic, always precisely detailed and vivid. A kind of romantic melancholy permeates the pages…. The charm and strength of the telling is the intimate reality created, the bang-on dialogue and characters [are] fully flesh and blood…. Spelling Mississippi, in the best way, is alive, both spirited and haunted.” -- Eliza Clark, The Globe and Mail
"Debut novel surfaces with extraordinary power…. Marnie Woodrow, who in this debut novel already displays a brilliant feel for atmosphere and setting ... invites you in to drink in all that atmosphere, and immerse yourself in her world. Spelling Mississippi is a novel that will absolutely surround you ... [It] reads like a langorous swim to a private island." -- Hamilton Spectator
“Southern light shines on stunning debut…. Woodrow has executed the shift to the long form with shocking grace and considerable skill….. Spelling Mississippi is full of intelligence, humour and passion.” -- Xtra!
“One of the hottest novels of the season…Not only is Marnie Woodrow’s Spelling Mississippi raising the temperature of book reviewers everywhere, it is set in that most humid of cities, New Orleans….Filled with humour, it is a delicious novel for a very hot July day…. Spelling Mississippi is witty, wise, smart and sexy.” -- Andrew Armitage, The Sun Times
“Spelling Mississippi…is a sweet, eccentric love story that I wished would go on forever….The story is original, sexy and presents an unforgettable portrait of New Orleans.” -- W.P. Kinsella, Books In Canada
“Strikingly written….an entertaining, appealing book….[Woodrow] relies on innovation and overdrive to spur her story, and the result is an arresting and original first novel.” -- London Free Press
“With the mighty Mississippi river providing a majestic background of intrigue, and the city of New Orleans the setting for romance and charm, Ontario short story writer Marnie Woodrow makes an impressive debut as a novelist with Spelling Mississippi. She delves deeply into the psyche of her exciting and mysterious characters. The author’s skill in spinning a good yarn is evident. Romance, drama, betrayal and sex -- it is all here, punctuated with fascinating historical detail…. " -- Winnipeg Free Press
"an affecting tale of one woman's immersion into the gloriously decadent city of New Orleans." -- Noah Richler, National Post
“Woodrow’s voice is original, her craft superb…. Spelling Mississippi has a lot of foreward thrust, a steady supply of reasons to turn the page.” -- The Gazette, Montreal
“Spelling Mississippi is drenched with an eerie and feminine sensuality from the very start. The scents, scenes and sounds of the book are all an elaborate foreplay for the greater things to come….There’s aggravation, mystery and a strange romance that will haunt you long after the last page is read.” -- Ottawa Citizen
"Woodrow's lush prose drives a satisfying and coherent narrative…. This is a love letter to New Orleans in all its steamy glory: the magnolias' reek, the non-stop nightlife, the potent Southern hospitality. Woodrow keeps the sexy story pounding along toward Cleo's and Madeline's eventual connection, which is so intense they suspect that something must be terribly wrong. Yet by the end, you can't help but conclude that, with Spelling Mississippi, Woodrow has done something terribly right." -- Susan G. Cole, NOW magazine
“Spelling Mississippi is charged with the eccentric energies of its characters and its New Orleans setting. A love story that is tender, but also witty, sexy and highly intoxicating.” -- Timothy Taylor, author of Stanley Park
"A smart, sexy, moving jazz riff of a novel." -- Emma Donoghue, author of Slammerkin
"In this bourbon-soaked barnburner of a tale, the Mississippi River becomes the catalyst for one woman's midnight swim and another's plunge into obsession. The setting is a New Orleans stocked with star-crossed lovers, barflies, thwarted dreams and mother-daughter showdowns. [Spelling Mississippi] plays with notions of fate and inevitability in the characters' lives, themes that fit nicely with New Orleans' reputation for romance and magic.... The novel is, at its root, about people overcoming their tangled, traumatic histories to authentically find one another." -- Quill & Quire