Monday, March 23, 2015


Jamie Kornegay lives in the Mississippi Delta, where he moved in 2006 to establish an independent bookstore, TurnRow Book Co. Before that he was a bookseller, events coordinator, and radio show producer at the famous Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. He studied creative fiction under Barry Hannah at the University of Mississippi.

Kornegay applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Soil, and reported the following:
It’s the middle of the night, and the main character, a would-be farmer named Jay Mize, is alone in a pasture. He has just desecrated a body that he found in his field, covered by water from a recent flood. He is contemplative, having finished this awful work. Here is page 69 in full:
The horrible exertion of his chore had taken its toll on his body, and he could barely will himself to move. He just sat there in his lawn chair with the crude metamorphosis all around him, holding a murderer’s remorse. If he could last until morning, he knew that, as with any successful experiment, the moral ambiguities of night would give way to the scientific certainty of day.
If it seems insane to you that Jay has opted to dispose of the corpse rather than call the authorities, it is because he made the rash decision to move the body out of his field and place it in a shed in his backyard. Having gone that far, there was no turning back. “But it didn’t matter that he’d done nothing morally wrong by moving the body from the field. No one would understand why he had done it, and that would be as good as wrong.”

He is distrustful of society and doesn’t believe he will get a fair shake with the law. Circumstances leading to his discovery suggest this, along with his family history, his status as an outsider, his understanding of justice. His logic is still dubious, but he is a man of logic nonetheless. He values science and reason, neither of which are terribly useful here in the Mississippi back country.

Jay, a former soil scientist, turns on his scientific brain to arrive at the solution to his problem: how to most efficiently dispose of this organic matter, breaking it down to its finest elements and releasing them back into the world so that no traces of evidence will come back on him. His rendering method, which I devised after searching for some unique way to get rid of a body, is a scientific process that requires some gruesome preparation, and we have caught him as he has finished this and started the experiment.

But Jay is still a compassionate man – a father and husband, though failing at both – and is disgusted by what he has done. Frequently, he must force himself back into this dispassionate, scientific mindset to continue his experiment. The passage represents what I find most interesting about Jay – that he operates with one foot on solid ground and the other sliding into madness. His madness is not moving away from self-control but toward a cold, rigorous, dehumanizing logic. He is sharpening his mind to a point so fine that it could easily break off.

Jay’s science is sound, which may allow him to get away with his cover-up, but will he be able to keep a calm head and avoid suspicion when he is thrust into situations with the novel’s other characters? Will his morality stand, or will desperation drive him to greater crimes?
Follow Jamie Kornegay on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue