Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: "Young God" by Katherine Faw Morris

I’m still trying to catch my breath after reading Katherine Faw Morris’ debut novel young God. It has been awhile since I have read a book that has as much manic energy as this one. It is a short novel, about 190 pages, and it is written in brief chapters no longer than two or three pages that not only move the story forward towards more jarring acts of violence, but makes Morris’ Nikki one of the most finely tuned protagonist the genre of country noir has ever seen. The last time a story like this has affected my gut and my heart so strongly was when I first read Daniel Woodrell’s The Death of Sweet Mister. It has the same kind of feelings of lost hope and infinite sadness that made that book so great. And while I think it is a bit tawdry and counter-intuitive to mention it, but it is surprising that a woman wrote a book like this. I’m very glad she did, since this is a genre that is dominated by men, with the noted exception of Dorothy Allison, whom I must say I have not read yet. But to see a female writer buck stereotypes and write a novel that has as much bite and violence as something Donald Ray Pollock or Matthew F. Jones would have written is something I respect, but more importantly, enjoy. This brief novel follows the life of thirteen-year-old Nikki, whose innocence at the beginning of the novel, when her, a friend named Wesley and her “mama” are diving off a cliff into a swimming hole. Her “mama” purposely jumps off the wrong side and ends up killing herself. This “fall from grace” is a literal one compared to Nikki’s metaphorical one.  She soon sleeps with Wesley, steals his car, and stays with her deadbeat dad Coy Hawkins, who used to be the most powerful coke dealer in the area who now must resort to pimping out underage girls to fiancé all of his wrongdoings. Driven my a need to survive, and the possibility of a large stash of money buried somewhere in the mountains, Nikki adapts to her new, horrific surroundings, adopting a new colder attitude that shows itself in disturbing ways, most notably an incident where she unknowingly leads a girl her age into getting shot in the face to stop Coy from raping her. It sounds brutal and it is, but like the best kind of country noir, there is a certain kind of poetry to the ways these low people try and live their lives with their definitions of grace and dignity. Morris is able to turn this kind of backwoods brutality into a Shakespearian tragedy for the ages. And like Woodrell’s book it has a sad ending, which I will not reveal, that shows not only a lost soul without a sign of redemption in sight, but a continuation of a brutal cycle of violence. It’s not happy or light reading, but it is compelling, and marks the arrival of a stunning new talent.

Rating: 5/5

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