Finished: Jul. 10. 2011
First Published: Jul. 12, 2011
Genre: dark southern fiction, Gothic,
On a dismal morning near the end of a wet October, Arvin Eugene Russell hurried behind his father, Willard, along the edge of a pasture that overlooked a long and rocky holler in southern Ohio called Knockemstiff.Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House US.
Reason for Reading: I love dark southern fiction. The type of book where the characters reach redemption by the end or at least try to, but they all, mostly, end up dead anyway.
This is indeed a dark book and I just loved it! The story revolves around three separate pairs of individuals who eventually share some ties, but most of all they connect with Arvin Eugene Russell, the orphan of one of the individuals. The book starts out with the story of Willard and Charlotte Russell. Willard marries Charlotte soon after he comes back from WWII, they move out into the back country, have a son and then Willard is tormented as his wife is ravished by cancer and he sacrifices buckets of blood to his "prayer log." Next are spider handling preacher Roy and his crippled guitar playing sidekick Theodore, fakers, who end up running from the law for murder. And finally there is photographer Carl and Sandy Henderson husband-and-wife serial killer team who every summer "go on the road" and randomly brutalize and kill men. But joining all three together is Arvin Eugene Russell, orphaned son of Will and Charlene, who grows up to be a good man but with a violence of his own.
This was a page-turner for me that I completed easily over the course of two days. Not only was the story compelling in an often-times gut-wrenchingly perverse manner, but there were times when one saw how some of the antagonists had started off as victims themselves. The writing is topnotch and the characterization of a whole cast of people who are mostly downright unlikable and unsympathetic yet somehow ultimately human is finely-tuned. A mixture of religion, southern Gothic and haunting people, places and plots creates a dark story indeed. Not suitable for those who like happy endings. I found the ending redemptive and satisfying but those who like most characters to be alive at book's end will find this is not the book for them.