Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" by Tom Franklin

Since I have given up the idea of becoming an English professor in favor of trying out this whole “writer” thing, I try not to look at books academically anymore. I find it boring and a little pretentious for someone who just enjoys reading. But I sometimes entertain the idea of teaching a specific class on a specific genre, and if I had to choose one, it would be country noir, and the book Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin would most definitely be on the curriculum. I love country noir, that weird little offshoot of noir where the settings are rural, the characters larger than life and sometimes evil as all hell, and where the violence is gritty and intense. From Joe R. Lansdale’s weird genre bending tales of morally stunted hillbillies to Daniel Woodrell’s heartfelt bloodstained love songs to the people who call Ozarks home, and even Indiana’s own Frank Bill, whose stories of meth-addicted losers on the cusp of death and redemption, it is hands down my favorite genre of writing. And you can add Tom Franklin’s name to that list as well thanks to this heartfelt novel. It is story ripe with intrigue, suspense and nostalgic pathos that even if you didn’t grow up in a town where the constable had to direct traffic, I am sure you would be able to find something in this story you could connect with. We first meet Larry Ott, who is semi-comfortable in his role as the town pariah after being involved in an incident a couple decades before when a girl he went out on a date with ended up disappearing, with Larry, a lover of horror book, being blamed for her apparent murder. The story behind this date is one that is both embarrassing and sad on Larry’s part, which adds a great deal of sympathy for his plight throughout the book. As he goes through his day, he heads back to his parent’s house, which he inherited, and his shot by an armed assailant wearing one of his old Halloween masks (which is also a part of another sad story from Larry’s youth). We are then introduced to Silas “32” Jones, the town constable who is put in charge of Larry’s case, which is being ruled a suicide attempt after a woman’s body is found in an old barn. We then learn about the history between Larry and Silas, how Silas mom and him lived in that old barn, how they were friends until a fateful day when Larry’s drunken father forced them to fight each other and how there high school lives were drastically different until it came to that night the girl went missing. There are many twists in this book that are expertly plotted and well earned on the part of Franklin’s storytelling ability. Ultimately a morality tale where redemption is never too late to happen, as long as people can forgive, this is a book to read and to cherish.
Rating: 5/5

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