Tuesday, February 22, 2011
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