Anything that seems to combat that loneliness is a trap-Love is a trap: Lawyer Nowell, Follow Me Down: A Novel First Edition, Dial Press, New York, New York (1950) February 19, 2018 Luther Eustis was a God struck man, a Christ haunted man, as Flannery O'Connor might have described him. Shelby Foote has written a tautly plotted novel telling the story of Luther Eustis from the perspective of multiple narrators. It is the perfect structure of this novel, and the distinctive voices of Foote's multiple narrators that grip the reader as it did his first Publishing House, Dial Press. And it is Wilkes who served as the model for Eustis' lawyer Parker Nowell in Foote's novel. Wilkes managed to convince the jury to find Myers insane, as did Parker Nowell achieved for Luther Eustis in the novel. Eustis' doomed lover, Beulah Rhodes, Stevenson called a blonde, though she had been beneath water more than two weeks before her body was discovered. 1--I the bailiff (trial scene) 2 3--II--a news reporter (finding of body) 4--III--the dummy (informing of sheriff) 5 6--IV--the murderer (how he met & killed her) 7 8--V--the murdered (life seen backwards) 9 10--VI--the murderer's wife (his background) 11 12--the fisherwoman (life on island) 13 14--VIII the lawyer (defense-plea; man after crime) 15--IX--the turnkey (jail scene) Foote adhered strictly to that construction, making Follow Me Down a novel that consistently draws the reader into the story, section by section. For this reader, Foote's novel is a tour de force perfectly portraying the sensation of a murder trial that gripped a small Southern town in the late 1940s. Without doubt Beulah Rhodes will be long remembered as the poignant victim without a chance to survive, while Parker Nowell, a man soured on the world by a failed romance, cautions us that "Love is a trap." Extras! Interested in the life of Shelby Foote? Shelby Foote: A Writer's Life by C. The source of the title he chose was the Delta Blues song, Fannin Street by Huddie William Ledbetter, better known to Blues lovers as Lead Belly (1888-1949). The song is also known as Tom Hughes Town. The song Mister Tom Hughes' Town relates the story of Leadbelly visiting the Bottoms against his mothers wishes. Other titles include Fannin Street and Cry for Me." For a detailed examination of the song, Benjamin Filene offers a three page analysis in his book Romancing the Folk: Public Memory & American Roots Music (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 66-68. This first recording of "Mister Tom Hughes' Town" offers a few risqué lyrics omitted from subsequent recordings of the song. Leadbelly's earliest biography, Negro Folk Songs As Sung by Lead Belly, published in 1936, acknowledged these lyrics in a brief footnote, but only printed a portion of them. The book also states, "This is the saddest and gayest of all Lead Bellys songs. As such, the song combines Leadbellys experience running away from home to go to the red light district (circa 1904) with the name of the sheriff at the time of the audio recording (1934).
Of course, Luther being a religious man and all, claims God told him to do it, but then again, maybe it was the devil leading him on. You're scared you'll wake up dead in the by-and-by to find there ain't any heaven, or hell either, and you won't have a thing to regret, much less to hope for." This one has it all; religion, redemption, guilt, lust, love, and it's told in beautiful language that slowed me down in my reading.
Follow Me Down is my second Foote novel, and I intend to read his others as I find the time. It was an easy story to get swept up into, with strange characters that demanded comparison with both Faulkner and McCullers.
We know immediately that fictional Luther Dade Eustis kills a young girl named Beulah by trussing her with concrete blocks and baling wire and sinking her in a lake.
Okay, after reading Shiloh, then Love in a Dry Season, and now Follow Me Down, I am no longer surprised to learn that the late Shelby Foote was a phenomenally talented novelist. Most of us know him as the Civil War historian whose anecdotes brought so many dead generals back to life in Ken Burns remarkable documentary series about the war but even friends who know a lot about southern literature often seem surprised when they pick up one of his novels.
"This was a brand new different world, and nothing in it would ever be the same all because of a little man in overalls I'd thought to kill fifteen minutes making fun of, lying on my back with both knees drawn up, whiskey-sodden, relaxed, with time enough even to tell him he smelled like a goat: one last half-instant before the thunder clapped, the world hung still, and everything pointed to Now." In "Follow Me Down," this moment of passion ignites a May-December fling that will end in the death of the woman, Beulah Ross, but is merely the catalyst for Shelby Foote's excellent novel. In reading Foote's fiction, it's easy to feel conflicted about his 20-year obsession researching and writing his magnificent three-volume history, "The Civil War: A Narrative" in the years 1955 to 1977, he produced no novels. Foote's second novel (1950) gives us the tragedy and the crime's perpetrator right up front; Luther Eustis, old enough to be Beulah's father, confesses to murdering her. Foote cleverly lets the two people central to the tragedy tell their stories in the middle of the novel, beginning and ending with those on the outside looking in: circuit clerk, reporter, the deaf-mute, Eustis' wife, his lawyer, the turnkey at the jail.
This is what drives the book--the way Foote reveals his characters through multiple narrators. We learn new bits about the characters and the story as each narrator brings his or her perspective to bear on the tale.
Before I launch into writing about Follow Me Down, I want to make sure yall know who Shelby Foote is. Ill start with his author bio, because it will either remind you or introduce you to one of the best Southern writers of our times: Shelby Foote was born on November 7, 1916 in Greenville, Mississippi, and attended school there until he entered the University of North Carolina. On a personal note, my mother was a life-long friend of Shelby Footes second wife, Gwen, whom everyone called Ginny- with a hard G. I have a handful of Shelby Foote memories, one of which sees him sitting on the porch out at Cottondale in Collierville, Tennessee discussing the civil war with the erudite J. Shed just acquired the first volume of Shelbys three volume masterpiece, The Civil War: A Narrative, and she wanted it signed. The world got a taste of the real Shelby Foote, when he narrated Ken Burns documentary miniseries, The Civil War, which aired on PBS in five consecutive nights in 1990. In the show, Shelby wore a pinstriped Oxford and simply told his version of the war as he interpreted it. It was the Goodreads group, On the Southern Literary Trail, that caused me to read Shelby Footes Follow Me Down. Ill go on and say it: not only am I a Southerner, but Im a writer, and it shamed me to admit Id never read Shelby Footes fiction. I have no excuse for never getting around to it, other than to say that I, like many, equated Shelby Foote with his Civil War volumes. Id done myself a disservice, but thats all behind me, for after reading Follow Me Down, I now have Shelby Foote fever. At the time I was thinking Mr. Rash must be a Civil War buff, but now I know why he had that look on his face: it was author admiration, pure and simple.