Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: "Smonk" by Tom Franklin

While I can’t really put my finger on the wild and crazy ride through the old west that I just finished, but I must say that Tom Franklin’s second novel, Smonk, is the weirdest, oddest and most bloody book I will read all year. It faces stiff completion, mainly from the recent release of The Scarlet Gospels, Clive Barker’s sequel to The Hellbound Heart, which I will be reading later this year, but I can bet it won’t have the same amount of brutality as this book does, which, if you are squeamish and are caught off guard by this book, might knock you on your ass. This book is also a perfect example of the talents Franklin possesses, since it is very different than the other books of his I have read. The Tilted World, His most recent novel, written with his wife Beth Ann Fennelly, is a mid-century love story set during prohibition; Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter felt like a modern country noir, easily comparable to Daniel Woodrell’s novels. And Poachers, his debut collection, the ghost of Flannery O’Conner seemed to be resurrected, this time a little dirtier and pissed off. But Smonk is not like any of those books. It is grittier, less refined and at some points, a bit exploitative, but that is what made this book so memorable and worth your time. It contains, in its brisk 251 pages, it packs enough bodies, blood and bullet wounds to fill one of Larry McMurty’s epic western novels. Smonk, the title character, has been terrorizing the townspeople of Old Texas, Alabama for too long. He murders cattle and people on a whim, sleeps with most of the town’s female population and cares little for his personal hygiene. He has a large goiter on his neck, a terminal case of syphilis and a bought of consumption that will likely kill him. When the townspeople organize a kangaroo court, little more than an excuse to lynch him, he escapes, with the help of Ike, his black companion, and Ike’s Gatling gun. His escape leaves many of the people in town dead, and the bailiff and the blacksmith, two men with judge axes to grind due to Smonk’s actions. Meanwhile, a prostitute named Evangeline is on a journey of her own, accused of homosexual acts due to her short haircut, she flees across Alabama, also leaving a trail of bodies in her wake, mainly men who tried to rape her, who were soon castrated after they were killed. The cast of characters here is rich and rewarding, from Walton, the man chasing Evangeline, whose obsession with God and purity creates an infinite divide between his men and his need to protect them, Ambrose, one of Walton’s men, a black man who has a little too much of a happy-go-lucky attitude towards murder, and the widow Mrs. Gates, a madam of a brothel who is the key to Old Texas’ dark secret. This book is bound to be too weird for some, once the secret is revealed, but the action leading up to it, which includes multiple head shots on the same head, a man whose face, for a lack of a better word, is ripped off, and a woman infected with rabies going on a biting spree, is too much fun for me not to recommend this book to anyone who likes their stories a little wet and gory. 
Rating: 5/5

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