Monday, June 13, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Synopsis From Back Cover:

In the 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals in a small town in rural Mississippi.  Their worlds were as different as night and day:  Larry was the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, black single mother.  But then Larry took a girl to a drive-in movie and she was never seen or heard from again.  He never confessed...and was never charged.

More than twenty years have passed.  Larry lives a solitary, shunned existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion.  Silas has become the town constable.  And now another girl has disappeared, forcing two men who once called each other "friend" to confront a past they've buried for decades.

When I first turned the last page, I sat there for a bit trying to figure out what I felt about the story I had just read.  I was expecting a story that mainly focused on the mystery, that of two different missing girls twenty years apart.  What I ended up reading was a wonderfully written exploration of male friendship and what it means to be a friend.  I've seen and read a bazillion books that explore all the pitfalls of female friendship and how they can turn on a dime.  It's rare, at least in my experience, to find a story that does the same thing for men.  So when that theme is explored in a mystery backdrop that also touches on race, I'm in love.

Both of these men are so damaged by what happened to that first missing girl, that is dictates their behavior for over twenty years.  Silas, who recently came back to town from the military, is now the town constable and hasn't spoken to Larry since that first girl disappeared.  Larry, the town pariah, has continued to run his father's mechanic shop, never getting a customer.  Nobody wants anything to do with him, and that suspicion is only fueled further when the second girl goes missing.  He reads horror novels and fends off the occasional drunken teenager who heads out to his home to start trouble.  It's only been recently that he has formed a friendship with another damaged young man.  That man will be the cause of even more suffering before the book is over.

Silas has been keeping a secret all these years, a secret he's kept to protect himself despite what it's done to Larry.  Their friendship was a brief one.  A friendship that ended with a fistfight and the N word, neither of which they knew how to get around.  When the went their own ways in high school, Silas became the star baseball player, never fully accepted by the white kids.  Larry became that slightly nerdy kid, that doesn't really have friends but isn't despised either.  The story of the night the first girl disappeared is slowly filled in.  It's a story of a sexual relationship that never should have been going on and of manipulation.  Silas has held the key the entire time, but it wasn't until Larry was laying in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound, that he was willing to spill the beans.

The emotions that both men go through were realistically told and a pleasure to read.  Larry's sense of betrayal by Silas and his desire to reconnect with the only real friend he's know are heartbreaking to read.  Silas' inner turmoil as he deals with the fallout of not only his old friend laying in bed fighting for his life, but having to tell the secret at long last, is so well done that I felt I was with him the entire time.  In the end, both men are able to reconnect and through a family secret that they both long suspected, are able to put the past behind them and renew their friendship.

The sides relationships were just as interesting for me.  Silas' with his girlfriend  is such a base of support and strength for him that it allows him to finally come clean about what he knew and never shared.  Larry's with his "friend" and shooter is such a great example of a destructive relationship built on fear and loneliness.  They both illustrate why we crave contact with others, why as a species we need to form bonds with others.

I'm not sure I can ever say enough positive things about this book, so I think I'll end this now.  I really hope that everyone has a chance to read a brilliant look into friendship that also has a great mystery hook.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read/review this book.  You can read other reviews by visiting the tour page.

Challenges:  A-Z, M&S


Helen's Book Blog said...

Great review, that's just how I felt: I thought I was getting a mystery, but in fact got a great character study. This book has stuck with me for a while.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite books of 2011 so far. I loved the character development, so much so that I almost forgot about the mystery aspect!

bermudaonion said...

Now that you mention it, I don't think I've read many books about men's friendships (although I did finish one last week). I'm really looking forward to this book!

Staci said...

Bravo Ryan! I love how you touched on the friendship aspect of this book and how damaged both of these characters were. I loved this one too...hard to put into words! Great review.

bookmagic said...

I'm so glad you finally read this book. I love,love, loved it. It really did have so many levels and you expressed them wonderfully

Anonymous said...

Now THAT is a glowing review! You are so right - male friendships do seem overlooked in contemporary fiction. I'm intrigued by this one ... sounds like I'll have to give it a shot.

Thanks for being on the tour Ryan.

Carrie K. said...

Terrific review! You articulated very well the things I also adored about this book. I can't wait to read more of Franklin's work.

Kaye said...

What a wonderful review! Ryan, you nailed it. I thought this book was so well done. I hope we get to see another book from Tom Franklin in the near future.

Athira said...

I'm glad you loved this one. I've been planning to read this for a while but never quite getting there. I need to change that.