Wednesday, June 22, 2011

the next good, american read

i finished Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin last week.  i'm not sure where i got the recommendation for this one from, but it fit quite perfectly as a follow up to Philipp Meyer's American Rust.

unlike that book, i came unto this one knowing nothing about it, with no expectation that it was the next big thing, little expectation what-so-ever.  like that book, it's an American tale, this one based in the south (and it certainly has that southern feel).  also like that book, the plot grabs you, pulls you in quickly, and revolves around a murder (of sorts).

Tom Franklin does something i very nearly forget about, with all the "lenses" i read books through these days; he writes a phenomenal story.  the characters are rich and vibrant, alive on the page:
French, a former game warden and a Vietnam vet, laughed and showed his small sharp teeth.  He was late fifties, tall and think, pale green eyes behind his sunglasses and close-cropped red hair and matching mustache.  He had a blade for a chin and ears that stuck out and could move individually.  Said his nickname in Nam had been Doe.  He wore blue jeans and a tuckedin camo T-shirt that shoed a Glock 9 mm in a beefy hand, aimed at the viewer.  YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, his chest said, FOREVER.
 every part of this story feels interesting, the characters, the side plots, it's just plain very well thought out and executed.  and the writing isn't bad either!!  quite good in fact.  deadpan kitsch used to prove a point works well when you've been able to establish a certain level of trust with a reader:
He passed a clothing store that had gone so long without customers it'd briefly become a vintage clothing store without changing stock.
corny, but descriptive, and that trust allows us to forgive him because it all works.

one of the things that differentiates a novel that i read and like from one that i'll remember is how much i care about the characters.  that doesn't mean like, dislike or whatever... but simply that the characters evoke emotion.  where Meyer fell short, Franklin does not... maybe by not trying to achieve so much.  his characters don't exist off the page, i don't care to recreate them or hear about them in, say, a follow up book.  but in the lifespan of the story, they live and i live with them, breathing, sweating, worrying and wondering.

it's the real nature of this story and it's characters that Franklin uses to establish that trust.  and he knows it...  and even makes a point of telling us he knows it:
It was nothing like movies or television where they dug moths out of the victim's mouth with tweezers.
we can reliably call bullshite on that statement without offending him.  we know he means "it's nothing like THOSE movies".  and it isn't.

i'm not going to tout this book as a work of literary art, but i liked it.  enough to recommend it.  probably not enough to remember it.

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