Ed Baldwin – Sliding Delta
A work of historical fiction, Sliding Delta is a coming-of-age tale involving a young guitarist who makes a series of decisions that have profound impacts on his life. Douglas Spencer is an amateur guitarist and a near-failing college student. His parents are in the middle of a bitter divorce while his former girlfriend lets him know about her pregnancy that was not of his doing. Seeking solace, Spencer delves into a Mississippi John Hurt album that he recently purchased in attempt to learn to play Hurt’s intricate guitar style.
Soon he hatches a plan to head south in search of the legendary bluesman. With encouragement and some financial support from his grandmother, he hits the road, bound for Memphis. His plans for a big adventure are almost short-circuited when a late night mugging leaves him battered and broke. A chance meeting with an veteran musician in a city park gets him some valuable lessons on the proper way to play the blues. Several other fortuitous meetings enable him to continue his quest.
A bus trip takes him to Avalon, Mississippi, home of his guitar hero. Nothing more of a collection of decrepit buildings and a long-abandoned train station, Spencer ends up at Kinder’s general store, operated by ex-Marine Buck Kinder and his teenage daughter Addie. Hired to pump gas and help Addie run the store, the guitarist quickly works his way into the good graces of the denizens of the local community, hanging out and raising hell with guys named Billy Ray and Cooter. He also frequently faces the harsh realities of segregation and racial attitudes in the mid-1960’s South.
Author Ed Baldwin takes his time in letting the story unfold, leaving room for other legends like Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, and Hubert Sumlin to make appearances. Just when it seems that the quest has been forgotten, Hurt finally enters the story for the long-awaited meeting on the front porch of the store. As his summer slips away, Spencer decides to head north for a return to college. A layover in Memphis alters his plans yet again as he takes charge of a show for a fraternity party, leading the band fronting an exotic dancer, accompanied by her mother. The evening once again takes Spencer down a different path that ends up in Southern Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi on Christmas Eve with all of the important women in his life.
Baldwin shows that his previous five novels have taught him how to develop characters that go beyond loosely drawn caricatures of musicians that often inhabit fiction centered on music. A well-written book that does a fine job of weaving several plot lines into a coherent tale, this book would certainly be of interest to blues fans as well as readers who enjoy well-written fiction.