William Alexander Percy: The Curious Life of a Mississippi Planter and Sexual Freethinker
by Benjamin E. Wise
University of North Carolina Press. 355 pages, $35.
MY UNCLE WILL (1885–1941) is introduced as “queer” in a blurb for this fascinating book about him. He was indeed as odd and self-contradictory as that word implies: a sissy-boy who was a hero in World War I (receiving the Croix de Guerre); a lawyer and a poet; a white supremacist in some people’s eyes and a “nigger lover” in others’. Will’s father LeRoy—hunter, gambler, lawyer, planter, capitalist, senator—labeled his frail, prudish Catholic son “a queer chicken.” Coming from Greenville, Mississippi, which lies at the center of the Delta, the patriarch wanted a “real man” as his heir, not the effete, scholarly introvert that he got.