Oh, small-town, rural America, why must you scare me so? Why must this book, written about you, kill something inside me with every page? Why does it, and you by proxy, need to crush me with loneliness and sadness and desperation?
This is a profoundly sad book about sadness in life, which is sad. And I'm not even being a brat here when I say that. There's nothing about this story that's even remotely optimistic, even the quasi-hopeful ending is very sad, if you think about it.
And why wouldn't it be sad? The background for the story is quite melancholic, quite depressing, really. Set in a tiny Mississippi town that is slowly dying, in the heart of poverty and little hope for the future, the story is full of racial tension, prejudice, bigotry, hatred, misogyny, and all the other little petty evils that lurk in the hearts of people. Like Stephen King, the author oh-so-frequently referenced in this book (seriously, Tom Franklin! You have complete disregard for any spoilers in 'Salem's Lot, don't you?), Tom Franklin portrays small towns full of their secrets and prejudices as a perfect breeding ground for the monsters we carry within our souls.
"He passed a clothing store that had gone so long without customers it’d briefly become a vintage clothing store without changing stock."
The whole story is about the lives of two men, Silas and Larry, whose lives got mixed together a few decades ago, back when they were children. One white kid, one black kid, and the unlikely and short-lived friendship that followed. And now, a few decades later, Silas is a small-town cop and Larry is a small-town pariah convicted in the hearts of the locals of the crime he has not committed. And as Larry is struggling between life and death, it's up to Silas to figure out what happened and to revisit the painful moments from their past, the moments he would much rather forget.
"But that was his trouble, wasn't it? Letting himself off the hook had been his way of life."
Tom Franklin is very skilled at creating characters that are so human and flawed and likeable and pathetic and strong and fragile at the same time. He creates characters that we come to care about so much that when scary things happen to them it hurts like punch in the gut. He creates tension and suspense by making us truly CARE - and does that with the remarkably non-melodramatic sadness that resonates with the reader long after the book is finished and put aside. Something about the way he chooses to tell the story and to wrap it up is so unsettling and yet touching that this book is likely to stay with you long after the last page is turned and the events of the story have gone out of focus in your mind. Because it's not about the plot, or the easy-to-guess mystery, but about the simple human nature of Franklin's characters doing their best in this not-so-friendly world.It's a masterfully written book, and the one I easily recommend.
5 sad, heart-wrenching melancholic stars.
"Was that what childhood was? Things rushing by out a window, the trees connected by motion, going too fast for him to notice the consequences?"