3.8 22
by Larry Brown

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“Brilliant . . . Larry Brown has slapped his own fresh tattoo on the big right arm of Southern Lit.” —The Washington Post Book World

Now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage, directed by David Gordon Green.

Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won’t slow down--not in his

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“Brilliant . . . Larry Brown has slapped his own fresh tattoo on the big right arm of Southern Lit.” —The Washington Post Book World

Now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage, directed by David Gordon Green.

Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won’t slow down--not in his pickup, not with a gun, and certainly not with women. Gary Jones estimates his own age to be about fifteen. Born luckless, he is the son of a hopeless, homeless wandering family, and he’s desperate for a way out. When their paths cross, Joe offers him a chance just as his own chances have dwindled to almost nothing. Together they follow a twisting map to redemption--or ruin.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With this powerful, immensely affecting novel Brown comes into his own as a writer of stature. As in his previous books ( Dirty Work ; Big Bad Love ), his subjects are poor Southern rednecks who exist from day to day, from hand to mouth, in tar-paper shacks and shabby mobile homes. Some are hard, mean and utterly lacking in moral fiber; others, such as the eponymous protagonist, try to live with integrity and dignity despite limited opportunities, despite the ingrained, ubiquitous habit of drinking prodigious amounts of beer and whiskey. Joe Ransom is almost 50, newly divorced, with bitter recollections of years spent in the pen for assaulting a police officer while drunk. A product of his time and place, Joe is reckless, self-destructive, hard-driving, hard-drinking, sometimes ruthless, but he is essentially kindhearted and decent. Joe manages a crew of black laborers who poison trees for a lumber company. When he gives a temporary job to teenage Gary Jones, part of a migratory family so destitute the boy has never seen a toothbrush or understood the significance of a traffic light, Joe is touched by the boy's dogged determination to work although Gary's alcoholic, vicious, amoral father takes the money as soon as Gary earns it. In his own laconic way Joe acts as mentor for Gary, until, in the novel's wrenching conclusion, fate and Joe's own stubborn morality wrench them apart. Seamlessly constructed, the novel hums with perfect pitch, with language as lean and unsparing as the poverty-mired Mississippi rural community Brown depicts. He has achieved mastery of descriptive detail, demonstrated in scenes that variously depict the contents of a country general store, a bloody dogfight, men butchering a deer, Joe cleaning out bullet wounds in his arm without an anesthetic, a punishing rainstorm. The dialogue is as natural as spring water. Brown never condescends to his uneducated, gambling-addicted, casually promiscuous characters; with compassion and eloquence, he illumines their painful lives and gives them worth. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The author of Dirty Work ( LJ 7/89) scores tough points with this disturbing look at the underside of rural life. Joe Ransom is 43, a hard-drinking, rough-edged ex-con who's used up most of the cards in his personal deck. Foreman of a Mississippi lumber company's ``tree-poisoning'' crew, he meets Gary Jones, age 15, seeking work. Gary's father is an itinerant farm worker, a man so thieving, murderous, and unwashed that Faulkner's Snopeses look genteel in comparison. Gary has never been to school, owned a toothbrush, or had enough to eat. He wants out of the everyday horror of his life. His dream is modest: to own an old pickup, to buy enough food to feed his addled mother and silent little sister. Joe likes Gary, and between backsliding bouts of boozing, whoring, and gambling, tries to help. The bond they forge and a slim hope for redemption link them in a shattering, inevitable climax. Recommended.-- Le nore Hart, Machipongo, Va.
Kirkus Reviews
With this, his fourth book in as many years, Brown delivers on the huge promise of his first, the tough-as-nails collection of stories, Facing the Music. With none of the melodrama or self- indulgence of his last two books, Brown here pares his prose close to the bone, stripping away the slightest hint of sociology or regional color. This is white trash, lumpen fiction with a vengeance, and a vision of angelic desolation. Joe Ransom is an unlikely role model. He drinks too much, gambles too often, and angers too quickly. A failure as a father and husband, he did some time in the pen before returning home to his job as foreman for a forest defoliation crew. But to 15-year- old Gary Jones, Joe's a hero. The son of a truly evil no-count drunk migrant worker, Gary is honest, hard-working, and loyal. When his pathetic family wanders into this Mississippi town and squats in an abandoned country cabin, Gary finds a job on Joe's all-black crew. Saving to buy Hoe's old pickup, Gary hides his money from his foul-smelling father, a bum so low he sold one of his kids and pimps his 12-year-old daughter. Gary and Joe prove to be "kindred spirits"—they're both essentially good and just men, despite what the local cops think. Much of the novel demonstrates the disparity between Joe's worldliness and Gary's naivet�—the illiterate teenager has never seen a toothbrush. In his direct, credible style, Brown also chronicles the utter depravity of Gary's old man, Wade. This is a world of pit bulls, shotguns, plump whores, and guys name "Icky"—an unlikely setting for Brown's profoundly moral fiction. "Bright with pain and liquor," this raw and gritty novel ranks with the best hard-knocks,down-and-out work of Jim Thompson and Harry Crews. It's lean, mean, and original.

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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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