4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Publisher: Harper Perennial 2010
Every once in awhile, I find myself reading a book I would not normally have chosen for myself. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of those books.
It gained a lot of mainstream buzz prior to its release, and of course, once it hit shelves, I couldn't go very far or long without hearing mention of it. Typically, that's a sign that I should stay far far away from it. My tastes tend to travel off the beaten path, and in the past I've found that I don't usually agree with the general consensus.
In this case, however, fellow blogger and co-creator of "One Book, Two Blogs" (a brand new face-to-face evening book club) Tara and I decided that a mainstream paperback book was needed to kickstart our book club - one that had the potential to draw in some male members, and that also had cross-genre appeal - and we felt that Crooked Letter would fit the bill.
(We all know that not everyone is as passionate about indie literature as I am, nor translated and international literature like Tara. Though you can bet your bottom dollar we will find a way to work both of those into the live book club as the months move on...)
The novel certainly has all the elements of a solid southern story. Spanning over a period of 25 years, author Tom Franklin tenderly deals with friendship, racism, murder, and small town secrets. The characters all speak with that familiar southern twang, simple to detect, filling your head as you read through the novel. While the who-dun-it is easy to determine, it's the atmosphere that draws the reader in, keeping those fingers dancing from page to page. His writing, his use of flashbacks - specifically for Larry Ott, who remains unconscious for most of the novel - keep the characters alive and active in our minds as we follow them along their murky and twisted paths to the truth.
Larry is a character who begs to be loved from the very beginning. From a young age, he suffers an incredibly lonely existence. He reminds me of the kid everyone sees sitting by himself in the cafeteria, feeling badly for him, but not badly enough to invite him over to eat with you. His childhood friend Silas is likable from the start but carries an obvious dark weight around with him. This contrast between the two plays heavily against the plot as the story slowly unwinds itself.
I am looking forward to discussing this novel on September 1st, when the members of "One Book, Two Blogs" met for the first time. I think this is an excellent entry novel for us, and there are unlimited topics we can pull from the book to allow for heady and passionate conversation.