Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin (Audio)


To me, there is nothing more entertaining than Southern literature. The sultry heat, humidity, bugs and kudzu aren't much fun in real life, but they provide ready-made atmosphere in books. And if you ever want a cheat sheet to the better Southern stuff, look no further than the OKRA picks, which are awarded every year by SIBA. This year, one of the most talked-about OKRA picks was this new release, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter", hailed as an atmospheric, gothic, Southern drama. This description was enough to convince my Heathrow Literary Society to adopt it as it's April selection.

Synopsis: Larry and Silas were unlikely friends back in the 1970's in rural Mississippi. Larry was bred into poor white stock, and Silas was a black son in a single-parent home. But friends they were, finding their common bonds in hunting and fishing, sneaking peeks at the sunbathing neighbor girl, and attempting (but sometimes failing) to prevent the whole black/white thing from getting between them. But when Larry takes a date to the drive-in, and the girl goes missing, Larry is branded a killer, despite a lack of evidence, and becomes the community outcast. Silas goes on to become an accomplished college baseball player and gets an education, distancing himself the scandal.

Twenty years later, Silas comes back to serve as the town constable, but stays far away from his childhood friend. Then another young woman goes missing, and all eyes are again focused on Larry, the community exerting their own form of punishment on the quiet, lonely man. Soon after, Larry is shot in his home, and some claim it was self-inflicted, an act of guilt. Silas aims to get to the bottom of it, but in the process, discovers alot about himself and his deeply buried feelings about his old friend.

My thoughts: This novel evoked so many different emotions while I was listening to it, I began to feel bi-polar. The Southern atmosphere was immediately comfortable. Within 10 minutes of starting it, I broke into a big old grin and said to myself "Yeah, hey, I know you. This is my language". After the familiarity settled in, I started to get a little ache in the pit of my stomach. I felt such an overwhelming pity for Larry and his life of loneliness. He was not a bad guy, just awkward and misunderstood. When a man prays to God every night to send him a friend? Guys, that just ripped my heart out. People can be so judgemental and cruel. But would I treat him any differently?

There are also several mysteries embedded within the story...two missing girls, one murder and an attempted murder. Plus a few more other Big Questions. These crimes are not the focus of the story, and certainly aren't all that difficult to figure out, but I don't believe that was Franklin's point. It's just one aspect amongst a multitude of layers of this study of human frailty, race relations and the examination of conscience.

The last thing I want you to think, though, is that this book is too heavy. It is also full of love and hope and very smart but subtle writing. Once I'd finished the book, I wanted to slip back down into the warmth of it all, like a hot bath. This is the perfect case where a story is greater than the sum of its parts. I now consider myself to be a Tom Franklin fan.

A word about the audio production: With Southern fiction, you must take great care to cast the audio with an accomplished Southern narrator or the story will lose its soul. In this case, Kevin Kenerly, a new-to-me narrator, hit this one out of the park. His various regional and ethnic accents were spot on. I can't seem to find out much about the man, but he has a handful of audios under his belt, and hope there are more coming.


The best news of all? Mr. Franklin will be calling into our Heathrow Literary Society in April to give us insight into this wonderful story, and answer our questions. It is going to be hard to wait, but on the other hand, it might be good that I have a little bit of time to pull myself together and practice suppression of fan girl tendencies...

5 out of 5 stars







21 comments:

caite said...

yes, I agree this one was a winner...in print for me. good story, great atmosphere...

Frances said...

Sounds interesting and quite a few people seem to be picking this one up. I agree that there is something about Southern literature that has a much more distinctive feel than other regional literatures in this country. Glad to hear that the audio worked out too. Agree that Southern lit on audio can be a really embarrassing mess in the wrong hands (or voicebox).

JoAnn said...

I've been trying to decide whether to read or listen to this... think you've helped me make the choice! Thanks, Sandy.

Book Bird Dog said...

This audio is one I would want to listen to. Love regional accents and a good story telling!

Book Bird Dog

Julie P. said...

I've been waiting for your review on this one. I read it and absolutely loved it. I bet listening to it was a real treat!

Zibilee said...

I know you have been super excited about this book and I have been anxious to see your review. It sounds like this one was top-notch and your reaction is what is going to finally push me into purchasing this book. Wonderful review, Sandy, and I am so excited for you that you will be speaking to Franklin!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I must admit - this is not one that I would have ever considered on audio until reading your review of this. I've been finding some great audios lately, which is quite a change from just a few months ago which was making it hard to get into the audio book format. I might need to add this one now...

farmlanebooks said...

This has been on my radar for a while. i love the fact that it gave you a whole range of emotions - I'm going to continue looking out for a copy :-)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love your review!!! I may have to print it out and give it to my bookclub ....

Marie said...

This looks great! Thanks for the recommendation!

bermudaonion said...

I need to read this before the Okra Picks challenge is over. It sounds right up my alley!

Nise' said...

Just got this one in print. Can't wait to get to it, but now I want to listen.

Ti said...

I've wanted to read this one since it came out but haven't gotten to it. It DOES seem like a good one to pick-up on audio.

Darlene said...

I've been really wanting to read this book after seeing a few reviews and now yours too. I may have to go ahead and pick it up I think. Great review!

Alyce said...

I've seen good reviews of this one, but yours definitely makes me want to read this book.

The Bumbles said...

Who decides who gets the narrator job for audio productions? Does the author have any input? I imagine not, but perhaps if they were more established they might? It would be terrible to have your incredible story spoiled by a bad audio production. I think an author can overcome a crummy cover. But with so many reading with their ears these days, it seems such a vital piece of the success pie. Enjoy your author chat! Do share what fan girl uncovers.

Jenners said...

Everybody seems to like this one. And you are in the best book club ever!!!!!

By the way, do you think Joshilyn Jackson is a good Southern narrator? I listened to her read "Backseat Saints" recently but have no clue what a good Southern accent is. But I think she is from the South, right? Anyway, I'm babbling and way off topic so I'll stop now.

Avid Reader said...

I keep hearing gerat things about this one. I think you've cemented its place on my TBR list.

Alice Teh said...

Time to dish out my Kindle. This book is sitting in there waiting for me to start.

Mary said...

I loved the book very much. It ranks up there in my top 10. The best character development and the parts that were implied and left unsaid added to the overall genius of a book. I admire Tom Franklin

Belgie said...

Great story line, easy to follow even with all the back and forth threw time as it were. I could have done without all the inappropriate language (didn't really add to the story). But I still enjoyed it.