Friday, May 15, 2015

Being Lonesome is Its Own Fast

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a novel written by Tom Franklin about two boys who grow up in Southeastern Mississippi in the 70s and 80s.   Southerners, according to the author, are schooled to spell Mississippi by repeating,  M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter...

There is probably a metaphor in the title about how we are all crooked letters, hunched over because of the experiences we endure--even those of us who evolve relatively free of hardship.

The two main characters in this book do not grow up relatively free of hardship. Larry is the son of a distant and critical father who drinks too much and is angry at the world. Silas lives in a one room spartan cabin with a single mother holding onto a secret.  Larry is ostracized early on because he is not cool, later because of an assumption that he is responsible for the disappearance of a young girl, and currently because of the disappearance of yet another young woman.  Silas, now a constable and previously a star athlete, had been friends with Larry--one of--if not the only--friend Larry had.  He, Silas, is hauling around a secret of his own which he discovers is even more complex than he originally assumed it to be.

The book is well written and engaging.  There are some sections that resonated particularly with me. At one point when Larry considers his own history he muses that

time packs new years over the old ones but ...those old years are still in there like the earliest tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from weather. But then a saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see. (page 251)

Earlier in the book, Larry remembers the times he would fast for three days to support his mother who was not eating for a church related reason. Larry thinks of this after a real ne'er do well (Wallace), becomes something of a friend.  Wallace's visits remind him of the process of fasting.

[Larry] found the first skipped meals the hardest, the hunger a hollow ache. The longer he went without eating, though, the second day, the third, the pain would subside from ache to the memory of an ache and finally to only the memory of a memory. Until you ate you did not know how hungry you were, how empty you'd become. Wallace's visit had shown him that being lonesome was its own fast, that after going unnourished for so long, even the foulest bite could remind our body how much it needed to eat. (182)

Some things about the book seem strange.  It is tough to imagine Larry so relatively undamaged despite his experiences.  Silas is depicted as a kind ethical man.  It is difficult to believe that he would not have revealed what he knew even before he knew all of what he eventually discovered.

I read the author's comments after finishing and apparently some of the book is taken from episodes in his own life.  Nothing wrong with this, but occasionally the novel reads like a pastiche of events, and the plot itself unlikely to have unfolded like it did.

Still, I liked this book and recommend it. It is a whodunnit of sorts with sweet portrayals of Silas and Larry and the nature of their relationships.  Like us all, two crooked letters trying to address the injuries to their postures.

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