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.Continue reading “Fiction: Kill All Your Darlings by David Bell”
It wasn’t Tonya Harding’s white trash roots that sold me on I, Tonya as a country noir flick, or even the homemade fur coat. It was the intense incompetence of the men tasked with doing the deed against Nancy Kerrigan. Incompetent crooks hold a special place in the subgenre. There are archvillains, to be sure, but country noir storytellers recognize that most criminals are knuckleheads (which certainly reconciles with my own time working in the criminal justice system).
Hillbilly Hustle has a knucklehead for a protagonist, Knox Thompson. He doesn’t stand a chance once he is in the web of archvillain Burl.Continue reading “Country Noir: Hillbilly Hustle by Wesley Browne”
Over the course of a life hard lived, the minder and the town and the mountain became as one, and no one ever left Harlan alive.
Country noir fits easily with horror. What is scarier than a long, dark shaft in an abandoned coal mine? Might our greed for the black stuff cause us to dig too deep? Might the violence on the surface go beyond the natural into the supernatural?
I was delighted to learn that Apex released a collection of short horror stories set in Harlan County, Kentucky (originally famous for the coal mine labor strife featured in Harlan County, USA and more recently famous as the setting for neo-Western Justified).
I once thought of Night Comes to the Cumberlands as a The Mind of the South for southern Appalachia (W.J. Cash utterly ignores the highcountry). Now that I’ve read Night Comes to the Cumberlands, I know just how different coal country is from both the lowcountry South and the stretches of Appalachia unblighted by coal and thank God again there is no coal under my particular corner of Appalachia. Coal ruined Mr. Caudill’s country, and he’s rightfully angry about it (although his writing is never other than fair and evenhanded, perhaps too much so, as he lays out this hillbilly horror story in exacting detail).
Night Comes to the Cumberlands has immediately joined my pantheon of books I would recommend to any planning to embark on a serious study of the South along with The Mind of the South, Confederates in the Attic, and Albion’s Seed. It occupies an even more central place in Hillbilly Studies, rivaled mainly by Albion’s Seed and perhaps Hillbilly Elegy. Caudill purports to do nothing less than lay down the entire (European-American) history (through the early 1960s) of the Cumberland Plateau that covers most of eastern Kentucky. The Cumberlands are a dissected plateau, hence the deep gorges, tendency toward erosion, and coal. It is the coal that dominates Caudill’s history and causes the divergence between coal country and the rest of southern Appalachia.