Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Father and Son by Larry Brown

I'm a big fan of this novel--it makes a good case for how horror can be conveyed very quietly and be all the more moving for it. There was lots I admired, but a few things stood out:

One is that the early pages of the novel set up its circumference--the premise: a guy gets out of jail after three years and returns home, the place: rural, poor, everybody knows each other and both grudges and friendships go back generations, the characters (and their conflicts): sheriff (Bobby), ex-con (Glenn), and friends and associates of both. And the whole novel stays within that circumference--but though you think you know what will happen based on information and assumptions that you enter the novel with (about ex-cons in rural poor places and the who and the what you think they come from)--you really don't know what will happen (or what happened in the past). And it all unfolds quite gradually (it's a good novel to study for what is revealed when), so that your attention is held as new pieces of info are relayed. There's also the feeling early on that Glenn's behavior (largely bad) will be explained by the alcoholism of his father, who he bitterly resents--and while that's partially true, there's a much bigger story that Brown reveals in an interesting way. He uses his third person omniscience really intelligently because as he moves between characters, and into and out of their perspectives, you realize that Glenn often believes things that really aren't true. And he misjudges people, a lot. But even when you learn that...and you know some kind of tragedy is on the way (the novel sets that up from the start--which helps earn that ending), you don't (or at least I didn't) predict what actually happens.

So structurally it's well done, but stylistically I loved it too. The writing is very matter of fact, the chapters very short (and Brown has some clever chapter transitions--e.g. one character goes to sleep at the end of a chapter, different character wakes up at start of next chapter), and the amount of time spent in characters' heads is quite limited--which all helps balance out the potential melodrama of the action (let's just say the body count is high for a literary novel).

One of the best novels I've read in awhile, I say.

3 comments:

Collin said...

Amen. I remember reading that novel and being jealous that I hadn't written it.

shmaltzy said...

Oooh, I'm looking for a new novel. I think I've found it.

Terry said...

I still remember the scene where Glen visits his friend at the lake. I love that scene. That's as close as Glen comes to any kind of redemption.