Country Noir: Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

“This is who I am.  I can’t change.  I don’t want to, really.  But for once I’m gonna put this devil inside me to good use.”

S.A. Cosby impressed me with Blacktop Wasteland.  He absolutely blew me away with Razorblade Tears.

A killer premise is always a good start.  Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee are plenty different.  Ike is black; Buddy Lee is white.  Ike built a business from the ground up and employs crews of workers; Buddy Lee’s work history is checkered at best.  Ike is a comfortable business and home owner; Buddy Lee lives in a dilapidated single-wide trailer with a window unit that pushes around lukewarm air.  Ike is happily married; Buddy Lee hasn’t been in a serious relationship since his son’s mom left him.  But they have a few things in common too.  Both did time in prison.  Both have ample capacity to deal out violence.  Neither could accept their son’s homosexuality.  Their sons who were married to each other.  Who were just murdered.

To paraphrase Solomon Kane, men will die for that.

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Fiction: Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell

I didn’t originally plan to write a post on Kill All Your Darlings.  It is positioned as a psychological thriller and set on a college campus.  Hardly the stuff of grit lit or country noir.  But it is set in Kentucky, and Bell leavens the thriller tropes with enough (well-crafted) literariness and inserts enough grit into character backgrounds to slink onto these pages.

Photo of the Western Kentucky campus by Bbadgett
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Music Monday: Juneteenth Edition

The federal government made Juneteenth an official federal holiday on June 17.  My new home already had made it a city holiday last month.  Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 every year, the date in 1865 when a Union general announced the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas.  Texas was the last state in the Confederacy reached by Union troops.  Juneteenth has been around a long time, but celebrations have traditionally centered in African-American communities and in Texas.  That’s right: Juneteenth is another great cultural export of the great state of Texas.

And celebration is the right word.  Juneteenth highlights our (initial) triumph over America’s original sin and the (incomplete) culmination of the founding ideals embodied in the Declaration of Independence.  In that respect, the “independence” in the official name of the federal holiday (the “Juneteenth National Independence Day”) is appropriate.  The American Revolution was fought for independence from both the British and tyranny.  For almost one hundred years, a large chunk of Americans only got one of those.  But it is a day for everyone; we all get to live in a more perfect union, we all get freedom from collective sin.[1]

Photo credit: Bob Simpson
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Music Monday, Flag Day Edition: Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash

What the morning called for.

She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam
And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home
In her own good land here she’s been abused
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land

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Country Noir: Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

When you really love a subgenre, you don’t want to read the same thing over and over again, but you do want to see tweaks and new takes on your cherished tropes.  Blacktop Wasteland falls right square in the country noir subgenre.  It distinguishes itself from the field not just with execution but with a protagonist who is a wheelman (and all the car chases the choice suggests) and African-American.

1971 Plymouth Duster pic by Kevauto
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Nonfiction: Blood and Treasure: Daniel Boone and the Fight for America’s First Frontier by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

Like most people, I have big holes in my knowledge of the world.  Drury and Clavin helped me fill some of those holes with their new biography of Daniel Boone, Blood and Treasure.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Daniel Boone was, and I definitely owned a faux coonskin cap[1] purchased at Chimney Rock (in the olden times when it was privately owned and they still had the hill climb race).  But I’ve never read a book about Boone as an adult, and there is a lot I don’t know about southern Appalachia’s frontier history, even though it is my history.

Drury and Clavin’s approach is perfect for me.  I’m not a big biography reader.  When I do read one, I prefer it devote ample page space to putting a person’s life into historical context.  Drury and Clavin do that—there is an entire chapter devoted to the French and Indian War that elides Boone altogether.  Ample page space given over to Boone’s time in the Yadkin Valley is equally welcomed by me, as a North Carolinian.

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Country Noir: My Father Like a River by Ron Rash

My Father Like a River includes two short stories: the title story and the longer The Trusty.  The Trusty was also published in Rash’s short story collection Nothing Gold Can Stay.  It’s as good now as it was when I read Nothing Gold Can Stay, but I’m disappointed to see a story I already own and have read.  As is usually the case with Rash, both stories take place in the mountains of NC.

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Fiction: Far from the Tree by Rob Parker, narrated by Warren Brown

When I say “country noir” in my blog subtitle, I am first and foremost talking about stories of my people—rural hillbillies from southern Appalachia.  But I am not just talking about that.  I can, have, and will read country noir set in the Ozarks, in the Texas Piney Woods, in the Rust Belt.  I have always contended those stories, and books telling versions of them, existed outside the U.S. as well.  I just haven’t known where to look.  I have also long contended that you can set a country noir in the city.  With Rob Parker’s Far from the Tree, I found a damn fine example of both.

The small town of Warrington, smack dab between Liverpool and Manchester in northern England, is roiled when a trench containing 27 bodies is discovered in a local forest.  Lead investigator Brenden Foley’s world is further rocked when he makes the first identification—his nephew.

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Country Noir: The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

It is rare that a book is considerate enough to explain itself in one pithy paragraph.  It is ever rarer for it to be appropriate to start a review by quoting the last paragraph of a book.  But both are true for The Tilted World.

This story is a story with murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, dynamite and deluge.  A ruthless husband, a troubled uncle, a dangerous flapper, a loyal partner.  A woman, married to the wrong husband, who died a little every day.  A man who felt invisible.

But most of all, this is a love story.  This is the story of how we became a family.

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Music Monday: Solid Platinum Edition

Last week I talked about the independent country songs that have been certified gold over the last few years.  And things aren’t slowing down: since I published that post a week ago, I learned that Keep the Wolves Away by Uncle Lucius has been certified gold.  (If hits on a blog post are any guide, I shouldn’t have been surprised.)  Even more impressive than the songs certified gold, independent country artists are getting songs certified platinum.  Leading the way are Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks.  (S.O.B. by Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats was also certified platinum, but I already featured it here and it is really country-adjacent.)

Tyler Childers at Hinterland Music Festival, St. Charles, IA 8/4/18
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