Review: Soil by Jamie Kornegay

9781444782936There is something about stories set in the American south, particularly those in and around the Mississippi. Whether they are classic American Southern Gothic, contemporary fiction, crime mystery or a combination the confluence of history, atmosphere and long-held beliefs makes for rich, dark, fertile storytelling. Jamie Kornegay digs into this tapestry with a debut about the environment, end-of-the-world paranoia and a family in break down.

Jay Mize is convinced the world is coming to a catastrophic end and that he must do something drastic to ensure his family’s future. He quits his job as an environmental scientist and moves his family out into the Mississippi flood basin to start a revolutionary farm. The story begins six months later with everything in ruins. Jay is practically bankrupt, his wife and son have left him and his farm and all his plans and ideas are literally underwater. As the flood waters recede Jay finds a body on his property. With his mild paranoia now full-blown delusional Jay decides he has to get rid of the body rather than report it and that’s when his troubles really start.

Peppered with a great cast of odd and unusual characters, including a bizarrely injured woodsman and a sex-addicted Sheriff’s Deputy, Korengay delivers a novel above and beyond the Coen Brothers comparisons. With just the right amount of wicked humour Korengay tells the story of a man driven to the brink, a brink only he can see coming, which he is determined to slip down.

Moving and affecting this book will suck you in from the opening pages. It will have you wincing and pleading, hoping and laughing and is a highly accomplished debut from a distinctive new voice in American fiction.

Buy the book here…

Re-Reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

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After reading The Goldfinch I knew I had to re-read Donna Tartt’s previous two books. After re-reading The Secret History it was The Little Friend’s turn.

A lot of people have commented to me that they loved The Secret History but were not fans of The Little Friend. I distinctly remember loving it the first time around so beyond the fact that The Little Friend was not The Secret History I was not sure why it wasn’t well received. I was also curious to see the influence of Charles Portis’ True Grit after reading that it was Donna Tartt’s favourite book growing up and was part of the inspiration behind Harriet.

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As with my re-read of The Secret History my memory was extremely shoddy. I remember Harriet being very bookish and that she thought she could solve the murder of her brother twelve years earlier and that this led her to becoming entangled with local meth dealers. I also distinctly remember a scene with snakes. But of course there was so much more going on The other impression I remember having was that The Little Friend was somehow a darker, modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird. That impression I can dispense with completely now after a second read.

I can definitely see why some readers were unsatisfied with The Little Friend. It is a dense book and the central plot is never resolved and it is for these very reasons that I loved this book again the second time around. Harriet’s life is full of contradictions. Her life is both insular and enriched. Her family is privileged as well as meager. And she is fiercely independent while being totally unprepared for what that means.

A twelve-year-old girl is never going to solve a 12-year-old murder. And that isn’t the point of the story. But how one death can damage the lives of so many and what the consequences of that damage are years later is the territory Tartt explores. And explores so well.

I loved every part of Harriet’s world that Donna Tartt creates. You get the sense that everything in this world is deeply familiar to Tartt as it is also the place where she grew up. While I was looking for similarities in Harriet to Maddy Ross from True Grit I saw more similarities with what little I know about Donna Tartt, particular in the physical description of Harriet. I also got the feeling of a personal connection to not only the place but the people in the book in particular the three sisters (Harriet’s grandmother and aunts). These weren’t just characters she invented but inspired by people she knew and knows.

And the snakes! Forget a scene with snakes. There were multiple scenes with snakes. Each more terrifying than the previous one. Tartt uses them brilliantly both for their physical, actual danger and their symbolic threat.

If you haven’t read The Little Friend before don’t let the naysayers put you off. Donna Tartt is an exceptional talent and this is an utterly original novel.If you have read it before and weren’t a fan I suggest giving it another go especially now post-The Goldfinch.

Buy the book here…

Moonshine, Murder and the Great Mississippi Floods

9780230769007Review – The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

I loved Tom Franklin’s award winning Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter but it was with a bit of hesitation that I picked up his latest book. Not because the story didn’t appeal to me (it did) but because he has teamed up with his wife to write this book and I am not sure about co-authored books.

I can’t remember reading a dual authored book before and for some reason felt a reluctance to do so. I’m not even sure how the process works. Do co-authors alternate chapters or write different parts? Or do they write different characters’ points of view and meld everything together. There are probably a myriad of different ways it is done and with The Titled World it is impossible to tell as it is written and reads seamlessly.

Franklin and Fennelly tap into the world of bootlegging which seems to be making a comeback in crime fiction at the moment on the back of Boardwalk Empire. Set in the fictional town of Hobnob on the banks of the Mississippi during the great floods of 1927. Bootlegging has been rife in the community and when two revenue agents go missing aspiring Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover sends his two most trusted agents in to investigate. Posing as engineers they soon get caught up in the efforts to save the town from the flood waters. The town’s levees are threatening to break, either through the huge build up of water or at the hands of saboteurs down river.

The story is told from the one of the revenue agents’ point of view, Teddy Ingersoll, and that of bootlegging, house wife Dixie Clay (this maybe where the authors alternate but I couldn’t detect any changes in style or tone). Their lives and fates become entangled over an orphaned baby and when the levee eventually breaks their worlds are literally and figuratively turned upside down.

While The Tilted World doesn’t reach the heights or trawl the depths that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter did I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I’m not sure it has cured me of my reluctance to read co-authored books but I will be a little more willing in the future.

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Part Southern Gothic, Part Epic Odyssey, Part Clash of Worlds

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Review – Southern Cross The Dog

This novel captured my imagination and attention from the first words. Set in the American South after the great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the story is part southern gothic, part epic odyssey, part clash of worlds. At the same time it is a tender story about the endurance of the human heart and the lengths it can go to survive. Bill Cheng explores a world deeply rooted in the past that is crashing headlong into the future and resisting with all its might despite the people caught in between.

The story begins with a flood that washes away people’s homes and lives. The poor and down trodden are left to fend for themselves and the imagery of Hurricane Katrina almost 90 years later echoes through your mind. A young boy will first lose his home then his friends and finally his family. First in the flood, then in the aftermath. And so a journey begins. An odyssey of sorts through flood and fire, decay and renewal, past and present. A boy becomes a man and must choose whether or not to stick with the past or run into the future.

The comparisons to Cormac McCarthy abound but I think they’re off the mark. McCarthy’s writing is often sparse and direct while Cheng’s is more poetic and profound. His style and the structure of the story is more reminiscent of Column McCann but Cheng’s own distinct voice shines through. Cheng brings vividly to life a physical world of decay and renewal, hope and despair and echoes these sentiments through his characters. Hauntingly sad this is an epic journey that tests and strains the limits of human endurance both physically and of the heart.

Buy the book here…