Daniel Woodrell coined the term “country noir,” and with Winter’s Bone he created a landmark work of country noir. Ree Dolly is the epitome of the tough-as-nails female protagonist that has become so recognizable to the genre.
I can’t help but think that Ohio would have been a great book if Markley never went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Markley has a lot of talent, and there is a lot of good grist in there—even a real plot!—but Ohio displays all the worst tendencies of literary-minded fiction and it derails the book.
Ohio tells the interweaving stories of four twenty-somethings returning to their small, Rust Belt hometown. The story is driven as much by who isn’t there as by who is (more on that in a bit). I picked it up on the strength of Paul’s review at Paul’s Picks and comparisons to Friday Night Lights (in which you may have noticed some interest on my part). I get Paul’s view and the comparison, but this is a book that falls well short of its potential.
Where do you tell someone to start with one of your favorite authors?
The dilemma is real. There is a lot of pressure on you. What if you screw up and recommend the wrong book and they never read your beloved author again? And Ron Rash is definitely one of my favorite authors. And one dear to my heart because he writes—and writes extraordinarily well—about the mountains of North Carolina where I grew up. Danger notwithstanding, the recommendations must be made. But I’ll give a few options.
Like most books, The Line That Held Us is a book about choices. The choice that Darl makes to hunt on private land while the owner is out of town. The choice he makes to shoot at what he thinks is a feral hog. The choice he makes to pull his best friend Calvin into things when he discovers that it was a person, not a hog, he shot. The choices that man’s brother, Dwayne, makes in reaction to his brother’s killing.
David Joy writes in Ron Rash’s territory—The Line That Held Us is set in Jackson County, North Carolina; Rash is a professor at a school in Jackson County—so the comparison is inevitable. Joy writes brilliantly, and I was almost ready to proclaim that he has exceeded Rash early in the book, but I was ultimately let down a bit.
Is the evil done to us irreparable? Are we doomed to pay it forward?
Last Girl Gone is an assured debut, as much a thriller as a mystery (certainly effective as the former). Young girls are starting to go missing in the small town of Hillsborough, North Carolina—just like they did decades before—and disgraced journalist Laura Chambers sees her way back out of her hometown.
For Halloween I’m returning to the motif of selling your soul.
Bauserman pitched an advanced copy of Some Dark Holler to me because I reviewed a collection of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories. I get a lot of these, usually with the author comparing their work to some colossus in the field. But I couldn’t resist, being a huge fan of both country noir and speculative fiction. I didn’t remotely expect Bauserman’s work to live up to that of Wellman, a master unequaled today in my eyes. Does Bauserman’s work live up to Wellman’s? I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but it very well may exceed it.
Some Dark Holler opens at the close of the Civil War. Death arrives at a meeting with Scratch (the Devil) and two of Scratch’s lackeys. A deal with the Devil will protect you from death for seven years. In return all you have to do is deliver another soul. William is his number one recruiter. The first chapter (you can listen to the audiobook version on YouTube) ends with Scratch sending William after a boy named Ephraim.
(There is actually a really cool explanation for Death’s involvement and how he works. Every human has a mortal imprint (“a kind of long shadow that trailed from his being and connected him to death”). That allows Death to collect without personally attending to it. If you sign a deal with the Devil, Death removes his imprint.)
These three recently released books are deep in the Hillbilly Highways wheelhouse. Last Girl Gone is set in my home state of North Carolina, a thriller featuring a journalist who returns to the small town she grew up in. David Joy is walking in the mighty footprints left by Ron Rash, and The Line That Held Us is a tale about one deadly accident setting off a cycle of violence set in my old stomping grounds in the NC mountains. Ohio is set in, well, Ohio, but I’m a Midwesterner now, and I can’t resist a book that gets compared favorably to Friday Night Lights.
I’ve been crazy busy, but a busy travel month has finally given me some reading time. I finished Last Girl Gone by J.G. Hetherton and The Line That Held Us by David Joy during my last two trips. I started Ohio by Stephen Markley on my last trip and should finish it on my next one. I’m a little iffy on Ohio right now, but Last Girl Gone and The Line That Held Us are solid 4-star books.
You can expect reviews of all three books over the next month or so. All are out now in one format or another and available at Amazon (click on the cover pics for an affiliate link).
Can’t-Wait Wednesdays is hosted by Wishful Endings.