Book: Father and Son

I did something this weekend I’m not sure I have ever done.
In two sittings, I knocked out a 350 page book.

I was on my way to meet someone on Friday when they bailed. I got off the bus near the used bookstore The Book Trader and thought I’d kill some time. I first picked up Let the Great World Spin. I have been seeing and hearing about this for a few years, so why not. Then I found Father and Son by Larry Brown.

This classic story of good and evil takes place in the rural American South of 1968. After being released from prison, Glen Davis returns to his hometown only to commit double homicide within forty-eight hours of his return. Sheriff Bobby Blanchard, as upright as Glen is despicable, walks in the parth of Glen’s destruction and tries to rebuild the fragile ties of the families and community they share. Dark secrets that have been simmering for two generations explode to the surface, allowing us a chilling glimpse for two generations, allowing us a chilling glimpse at how evil can fester in a man’s heart and eat up his soul.
– Algonquin Books

As a fan of grit lit and stories about the rural South, it was a name I had come across and read about online, but hadn’t read any of his books. For 5 bucks, I picked it up. I stopped at Old City Coffee and then sat on a bench in front of Christ Church. Nice out, Friday afternoon, First Friday so people were setting up on 2nd Street… I actually wasn’t even going to start a new book. I am halfway through Middlesex, which I think is phenomenally phenomenal, but it’s a pretty dense and heavy book. So when I cracked open Father and Son, the writing is so amazing in a completely different way, and easy to read, a few hours later I had read half the book. Sunday I woke up early, went to Benna’s, then the park, and finished the other half.

I have talked before about being a fan of dirty realism, the South, etc. This book was all that. And then some. Beautifully written, great dialogue, and a way to capture the way people see the world, literally, without being dull or slowing the story down. The reviews below do a much better job than I could articulating what a great book it was.

Amazon.com Review
Larry Brown is the master of the raw and the sparse and of bringing Mississippi to the world in a language that is as stripped down and bare as Faulkner’s is dense. Brown is at his best when he writes of the tensions between one screwed-up man and another, in this case a father and son. One has just been let out of prison, and he shouldn’t have been. The other is drunk and disabled and intends on staying that way. To make things worse, there is a conflict with the sheriff, who is good and righteous but who tried to put the moves on the parolee’s woman while he was in prison. To tell more would be to violate Brown’s mastery of dialogue and of that which goes unspoken in this sly story of father, son, and misery.

From Publishers Weekly
It takes formidable talent to mesmerize readers of a novel that focuses on a deeply flawed, unsympathetic protagonist, but Brown succeeds triumphantly in his most wise, humane and haunting work to date. On the first day that Glen Davis is released from the Mississippi state pen (after serving three years for running over a child while he was drunk), he kills two men; that night, he callously tells the mother of his toddler son that marriage is not part of his plans. On the second day, he rapes a teenaged girl. Glen is a despicable person. mean, icily remote, seemingly without conscience. Sheriff Bobby Blanchard is Glen’s opposite; a kind and decent man, he epitomizes integrity and responsibility. Bobby is in love with Jewel, the mother of Glen’s son, and their relationship is only one of the heartwrenching dramas played out here. Only halfway through the book do we learn that Bobby is Glen’s half brother; both are sons of Virgil Davis, whom Glen demonizes and hates and whom Bobby wistfully wishes would acknowledge him. In fact, all of the characters are involved in a web of secret relationships, and much of the resonance of this suspenseful narrative is due to Brown’s adroit pacing, as he releases surprising information gradually and with natural understatement. Despite Glen’s coldhearted deeds, we come to understand him, too, as he progresses to a desperate act of rage and revenge. As in his previous novels, Brown (Dirty Work; Joe) uses lean, lyrical prose to evoke the cadenced speech and the atmosphere of the rural south in the 1960s, where everybody chainsmokes and drinks whiskey. Though he depicts a basic conflict of good and evil, however, Brown never reduces the issues to stark polarities. Most impressive here are Brown’s compassionate view of human nature and his understanding of the subtleties of human behavior and the fabric of society, which, after tragedy reknits itself anew, to reaffirm the essential kinship of a community of souls.

From Library Journal
Glen Davis returns to his Mississippi Delta hometown in 1968 having served three years in prison for vehicular homicide. Fueled by guilt over his accidental shooting of his brother when they were children and anger at his drunken, neglectful father, Glen has a burning desire to even the score for every real and imagined slight he has suffered. The person who must stop him is his hated half-brother Bobby, the county sheriff and emblem of his father’s infidelity and ill-treatment of his mother. A tale of brothers as much as fathers and sons, this novel is filled with the gritty, working-class realism of one of Bruce Springsteen’s darker songs and resonates back to Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau. Brown has come a long way since Facing the Music.

From Booklist
It’s 1968 near Oxford, Mississippi, and Glen Davis has come home from prison. He drinks and plots revenge against all who have wronged him, especially his father, a gentle, shiftless alcoholic whom Glen blames for his mother’s death, and Sheriff Bobby Blanchard, who arrested the drunken Glen for manslaughter after he ran down a young boy with his car. Glen’s girlfriend, Jewel, has waited faithfully for him, hoping to secure a husband and a father for their son, but Glen just wants sex. In fact, he’s a predator, soon picking up a flirtatious teenager and raping her, then plotting rape against Blanchard’s mother when Jewel rejects him for Blanchard. Glen may remind the reader of Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s Light in August: the two share a brooding anger and a confused parentage, and both become murderers. But Brown has no character such as Gail Hightower, crying out to deaf Heaven, nor is Glen tortured by racial schizophrenia. He’s just a drunken psychopath. And Brown leaves a lot of loose ends: What are we to make of Glen’s unwitting theft of his dead mother’s money, for instance, or of the peaceful interlude when Glen goes fishing with an old friend? Where did this old friend come from? On the other hand, Brown muses on the legacies of fathers to sons quite effectively, avoiding every bromide. Not Faulkner by a long shot, but, as in Brown’s gritty Joe (1991), there’s great power here and almost unendurable suspense; Brown’s two rape scenes visit with pure evil. John Mort

From Kirkus Reviews
From a small rural southern world of guns and hounds and whiskey, Mississippi writer Brown (Joe, 1991, etc.) fashions a redneck tragedy of timeless dimensions–a novel in which fate drives the plot to its necessarily bloody denouement. A portrait of true evil is at the heart of this sad tale of betrayal and revenge, with its almost casual allusions to fratricide, parricide, and incest. Evil has a name: Glen Davis, the bad seed of Virgil and Emma, who arrives back in town after serving three years for vehicular homicide in Parchman penitentiary, where he seems to have nursed his grudges and hates, all of which he settles in the few days covered in this novel. High on his list of unfinished business is his old lover, Jewel, the mother of a four- year-old boy he refuses to acknowledge. Faithful through his prison stay, Jewel realizes how hopeless their future is, and when Glen returns, she turns to Bobby Blanchard, the sheriff who loves her and whose own history is closely tied to Glen’s. In his first hours back home, Glen robs, rapes, and murders, proving beyond a doubt his bone-level badness. Without forgiving Glen’s behavior, Brown sketches in his troubled past: the accidental shooting of his brother Theron, his mother’s bizarre sexual behavior, and her relentless fixation on the idea that Blanchard’s widowed mother is her husband’s true love–which isn’t so far from the truth, though they’ve always behaved honorably. Meanwhile, Bobby’s job brings him face to face with evil’s many forms: a hillbilly dad who kills his crying son, a grownup man who kills his daddy, and the just plain inexplicable fate that takes an 11-year-old’s life by drowning. Providential order asserts itself in Glen’s bloody punishment–a punishment he not only deserves but seems, finally, to invite. A riveting tale of an unforgiving and cruel world.

Review
“Larry Brown will cause you to be disappointed with every other novel you may pick up this year.”-Thom Jones

“Powerful, suspenseful, and moving entertainment, the work of an enormously gifted natural writer.”-The Washington Post

 

It’s a great read and an easy read. But just because it is quick to go through, doesn’t mean it is breezy or packs no punch. It is quite the opposite. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is or even might be a fan of this type of writing or story.