Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: "Dirty Work" by Larry Brown

While it has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts and finally sit down and write about the late Larry Brown’s first novel Dirty Work, I can say with great enthusiasm that all of my thoughts are positive. I first began to take notice of Larry Brown when I heard his name mentioned a few times among the names of authors I have liked, such as Donald Ray Pollock and Frank Bill, but really began to seek him out when I saw the movie Joe earlier this year. I loved the movie, and quickly picked up Dirty Work, and was blown away by its simple, humble nature that held some giant real world truths within the tiny framework of a hospital room. Unlike a writer like Woodrell, there is nothing fancy or overwritten in what Brown writes. He uses language that is deeply heartfelt to write about people who struggle to with complex dilemmas and rough issues, but it is never hard to understand. You can tell Brown leaves it all on the page: every unmet desire, every need to escape and every failed chance at redemption are fully formed with a deep emotional core that is not phony or ironic. And in doing so, Brown doesn’t only question the cost of war on an intimate level, but he touches on broader topics, like the meaning of life, and what faith and religion mean in a world where cruelty has brought two seemingly innocent men to such cruel stations in life. The two men in question are two veterans of the Vietnam War. Braiden, a black man who lost both arms and both legs in the war, has spent about twenty years in the hospital, relying on fantasies of being an African prince to escape such squalid conditions. One day, another patient is admitted to the hospital, Walter, a man with a chewed up face and a sniper bullet lodged in his skull after stepping into crossfire, who seems to have something that Braiden has been looking needing for a long time. The novel, written in short chapters, gets inside each of these characters heads and dissects their desires and memories as they try to make a connection out of their shared suffering. We learn about Walter’s past with a violent father and mother and his possible sweetheart waiting for him once he gets out, as well as the Braiden’s first experience with death in combat. Brown’s direct approach to the subject matter creates a few memorable, harrowing scenes, such as the first question Walter asks Braiden, which is so direct it feels like a slap, to the revelation of why Walter is in the VA hospital, and what Braiden really wants Walter to do for him, which, in the context of the story, a context I hope readers will understand and keep an open mid about, is an act of love. This is a powerful novel to say the least. Not a violent one, but one that will leave a mark on you for the better.

Rating: 5/5

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