“Deer Creek Drive” is not the first time Lowry has combined true crime with her memoirs. In the 1980s, while in the throes of despair over the hit-and-run death of her son, she became fascinated with Karla Faye Tucker, a Texas death-row inmate who had murdered two men with a pickax. Lowry visited Tucker in prison for many years prior to her 1998 execution, and the two women formed an unlikely friendship that Lowry chronicled in her 1992 book “Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir.”
While the juxtaposition of Lowry’s grief and Tucker’s redemption forms the foundation of “Crossed Over,” the inclusion of Lowry’s childhood recollections in “Deer Creek Drive” don’t provide the same link. In a book chock-full of characters — from the many members of Dickins’ prominent family to the multitude of law enforcement and legal personnel to myriad reporters, politicians and members of the community — the inclusion of Lowry’s history seems superfluous to Dickins’ story.
Lowry addresses many contrasts between her and Dickins’ reality — such as how her family was transient and moved nearly every year while Dickins’ multigenerational wealth firmly planted her on Deer Creek Drive, and how Dickins’ family evaded the polio epidemic by indulging in summer-long, out-of-state vacations while Lowry’s mother became disabled from the disease. A more targeted examination of classism could have fused their storylines together.
Instead, Lowry focuses on the racial friction prevalent between World War II and Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1955 sermon in Montgomery, Alabama, following the arrest of Rosa Parks — what Lowry calls “the real beginning of the civil rights movement in this country.” Short of Dickins’ accusation that a nonexistent Black man committed the crime, which never gains momentum, this story isn’t about racism. Racial tensions obviously factor into any narrative set in 1950s Mississippi, but the intersection of sexism and classism play a more prominent role and are left relatively unexplored.
Lowry makes a strong, albeit brief, argument about gender discrimination when she points out that Emmett Till’s male murderers were swiftly acquitted while Dickins spent years in prison for a conviction based on circumstantial evidence. Further exploring the sexism inherent in racism could have made a profound impact in this narrative, yet Lowry barely scratches the surface before moving on.
Ultimately, Lowry’s “reckoning” is more of an account of how racially imbalanced things used to be than an attempt to heal past wrongs and, unfortunately, doesn’t bring a new perspective to the conversation. She admits that at the time, she would have laughed had someone informed her that participating in a cotillion contributed to white supremacy, but she doesn’t venture any deeper than her own ruminations to explore a greater social context.
Lowry packs a lot into her ambitious and convoluted true-crime memoir but ultimately brings it back to Dickins. The conviction of a wealthy white woman served to divide her community for decades. By the end of “Deer Creek Drive,” Ruth Dickins has suffered dearly for either her arrogance or her guilt. With no conclusive way to discern the truth, it’s left up to the reader to decide.
“Deer Creek Drive: A Reckoning of Memory and Murder in the Mississippi Delta”
by Beverly Lowry
Alfred A. Knopf
368 pages, $29