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3.5 12
by Tom Franklin

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In ten stunning and bleak tales set in the woodlands, swamps, and chemical plants along the Alabama River, Tom Franklin stakes his claim as a fresh, original Southern voice. His lyric, deceptively simple prose conjures a world where the default setting is violence, a world of hunting and fishing, gambling and losing, drinking and poaching—a world most of us


In ten stunning and bleak tales set in the woodlands, swamps, and chemical plants along the Alabama River, Tom Franklin stakes his claim as a fresh, original Southern voice. His lyric, deceptively simple prose conjures a world where the default setting is violence, a world of hunting and fishing, gambling and losing, drinking and poaching—a world most of us have never seen. In the chilling title novella (selected for the anthologies New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, 1999 and Best Mystery Stories of the Century), three wild boys confront a mythic game warden as mysterious and deadly as the river they haunt. And, as a weathered, hand-painted sign reads: "Jesus is not coming;" This terrain isn't pretty, isn't for the weak of heart, but in these desperate, lost people, Franklin somehow finds the moments of grace that make them what they so abundantly are: human.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
These 10 honestly crafted and carefully executed tales of cottonmouths and skulking outlaws in the South unflinchingly explore the pitfalls and dangers involved in making one's place in the world. The collection's power arises from Franklin's reluctance to analyze its (often bloody) events. In "Dinosaurs," a waste inspector takes a huge stuffed rhinoceros as a reward for not closing down a gas station with several hazardous leaky pumps. In "Grit," a devious laborer at a minerals processing plant trades positions with his supervisor through blackmail involving gambling debts, only to see the scam backfire. The protagonist of "Triathlon," a man trapped in a decaying marriage, remembers fishing for sharks on the night before his wedding. Fantasy has its place, too, as in "Alaska," in which a rambling male voice describes an imagined trip to the Northwest that never gets farther than the shores of a pond in some unspecified Southern location; although little happens, the story's dreamy meandering is seductive. In "The Ballad of Duane Juarez," a man commits small crimes without guilt because he has given himself a fake name, and thereby a fake identity. The other stories in the book, however, only provide a tantalizing buildup to the chilling title story, in which a legendary and demonic game warden in a small Alabama town stealthily and privately punishes three youths who have murdered his predecessor. Franklin announces the arrival of the avenger with a sentence no more complete than "A match striking," and yet this is enough for a good scare. While he may occasionally wax sentimental about life in the impoverished South, Franklin's style is often as laconic and simply spoken as his characters' dialogue, sometimes close to Hemingway, but more often akin to Denis Johnson or Raymond Carver in its resonant ordinariness. Although some readers may balk at the virtual absence of women from these intensely masculine yarns, those who persist will be persuaded by their gruff grace. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
NY Times Book Review
...[A]n engaging collection of sympathetic losers....[I]t's as if the author kidnapped Raymond Carver's characters and set them loose in the Deep South.
Kirkus Reviews
Ten rewarding, workhorse stories, all set in the backwoods country of southern Alabama. Newcomer Franklin seems the sort of southerner who might consider Montgomery the Big City and look upon Arkansans as Yankees. City slickers approaching his work may be reminded at first of Tobacco Road, but most of his characters are from small towns rather than small farms—though they're about as poor and just as desperate. Glen, the plant manager of "Grit," is in charge of a dying factory owned by a couple of northern idiots who don't visit the premises more than once or twice a year. Badly in debt to one of his employees (a bookie), Glen becomes involved in an increasingly desperate extortion racket. The narrator of "Shubuta" lives in a dying town where lovesick men buy ammunition whenever their girls leave them. The narrator's uncle, who suffered a pretty miserable marriage himself, is now slowly dying in the hospital, and the narrator is trying to figure out what to do about his own unfaithful girlfriend. In "Triathlon," a group of friends who met at the Chicago Marathon go to a bachelor party even as their own marriages are disintegrating, and in "The Ballad of Duane Juarez," a rich real-estate broker asks his divorced and unemployed brother to come to his house while he's on vacation and kill his girlfriend's cats. The title story concerns a doomed family of three brothers—sons of a father who committed suicide—who make their living hunting illegal game and kill a warden when he confronts them over it. Dark and evocative, it's the most atmospheric and best-developed piece here. Refreshingly gritty and unpretentious: stories that manage to open the door on what—for mostreaders—remains a previously unknown world.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Harper Perennial
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.52(d)

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Hunting Years

From a trestle in Dickinson, Alabama, I look down into the coffee-brown water of the Blowout, a fishing hole I loved as a boy. It's late December, cold. A stiff wind rakes the water, swirls dead leaves and nods the tall brown cattails along the bank. Farther back in the woods it's very still, cypress trees and knees, thick vines, an abandoned beaver's lair. Buzzards float overhead, black smudges against the gray sky. Once, on this trestle, armed with only fishing rods, my brother Jeff and I heard a panther scream. It's a sound I've never forgotten, like a madwoman's shriek. After that, we brought guns when we came to fish.

But today I'm unarmed, and the only noise is the groan and hiss of bulldozers and trucks on a new-cut logging road a quarter-mile away.

I left Alabama four years ago, when I was thirty, to go to graduate school in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where among transplanted Yankees and Westerners I realized how lucky I was to have been raised here in these woods among poachers and storytellers. I know, of course, that most people consider Arkansas the South, but it's not my South. My South, the one I haven't been able to get out of my blood or my imagination, is lower Alabama, lush and green and full of death, the wooded counties between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers.

Yesterday at five a.m. I left Fayetteville and drove seven hundred miles south to my parents' new house in Mobile, and this morning I woke early and drove two more hours, past the grit factory and the chemical plants where I worked in my twenties, to Dickinson, the community where we lived until I was eighteen. It's a tiny place, one store and a post office in thesame building, a kudzu-netted graveyard, railroad tracks. I've been finishing a novella that takes place in these woods — in the story, a poacher is murdered right beneath where I'm standing — and I'm here looking for details, for things I might've forgotten.

To get to the Blowout, I picked through a half-mile of pine trees that twelve years ago had been one of my family's cornfields. I hardly recognized the place. I walked another half-mile along the new logging road, then climbed onto the railroad track, deep brown woods on both sides, tall patchwork walls of briar and tree, thrushes hopping along unseen like something pacing me. My father and uncles used to own this land. It was ours. When he died, my grandfather divided almost six hundred acres among his five children, expecting them to keep it in the family, but one by one they sold it for logging or to hunting clubs. Today we own nothing here.

I'm about to leave when I notice that fifty yards down the track something big is disentangling itself from the trees. For a moment I re-experience the shock I used to feel whenever I saw a deer, but this is only a hunter. I see that he's spotted me, is climbing onto the tracks and coming this way. Because I lived in these parts for eighteen years, I expect to know him, and for a moment I feel foolish: What am I doing here at the Blowout, during hunting season, without a gun?

It's a familiar sensation, this snag of guilt, because when I was growing up, a boy who didn't hunt was branded as a pussy. For some reason I never wanted to kill things, but I wasn't bold enough to say so. Instead, I did the expected: went to church on Sundays and on Wednesday nights, said ``Yes ma'am'' and ``No sir'' to my elders, and wrote my stories indoors, at night, secretly.

And I hunted. Though I hated (and still hate) to get up early, I rose at four a.m. Though I hated (and still hate) the cold, I made my way through the icy woods, climbing into one of our family's deer stands or sitting at the base of a thick live oak to still hunt, which simply means waiting for a buck to walk by so you can shoot him. And because I came to hunting for the wrong reasons, and because I worried that my father, brother, and uncles might one day see through my ruse, I became the most zealous hunter of us all.

I was the one who woke first in the mornings and shook Jeff awake. The first in the truck. The first to the railroad track where we climbed the rocky hill and crept toward the Blowout, our splitting-up point. On those mornings, the stars still out, it would be too dark to see our breath, the cross ties creaking beneath our boots, and I would walk the quietest, holding my double-barrel sixteen-gauge shotgun against my chest, my bare thumb on the safety and my left trigger finger on the first of its two triggers. When we got to the Blowout, I'd go left, without a word, and Jeff right. I'd creep down the loose rocks, every sound amplified in the still morning, and I'd step quietly over the frozen puddles below and into the dark trees. In the woods, the stars disappeared overhead as if swiped away, and I inched forward with my hand before my face to feel for briars, my eyes watering from cold. When I got to where I thought was far enough, I found a tree to sit beneath, shivering and miserable, thinking of the stories I wanted to write and hoping for something to shoot. Because at sixteen, I'd never killed a deer, which meant I was technically still a pussy.

Of course there were a lot of real hunters in my family, including my father. Though he no longer hunted, Gerald Franklin commanded the respect of the most seasoned woodsman because as a young man he'd been a legendary killer of turkeys (and we all knew that turkey hunters consider themselves the only serious sportsmen, disdaining deer or any other game the way fly fishermen look down on bait fishermen). Dad, a good a storyteller, never bragged about the toms he'd shot, but we heard everything from our uncles. According to them, my father had been the wildest of us all, getting up earlier and staying in the woods later than any man in the county. There's a story he tells where he woke on a spring Sunday to go hunting—he never used a clock, relying instead on his ``built-in'' alarm. Excited because he knew which tree a gobbler had roosted in the evening before, he dressed in the dark so he wouldn't wake my mother, pregnant with me. When he got to the woods it was pitch black, so he settled down to wait for daylight. An hour passed, and still no sign of light. Instead of going back home, though, he laid his gun aside, lit a cigarette, and continued to wait for a dawn that wouldn't arrive for three more hours. Later, laughing, he told Jeff and me he'd gotten to the woods around one a.m.

But at some point, before I started first grade, he quit hunting. I always figured it was because he'd found religion. I grew up going to the Baptist church every Sunday with a father who was a deacon, not a hunter. Ours was a Godly household—to this day I've never heard Dad curse — and we said grace at every meal (even if we ate out) and prayed as a family each night, holding hands. After church on Sunday mornings, Dad sat in our living room and read his Bible, wearing his tie all day and loading us in the big white Chrysler to head back to church on Sunday evening. If we passed the three Wiggins brothers, dressed in old clothes and carrying hand-cut fishing poles, Dad shook his head and gave us all a mini-sermon on the evils of fishing on the Lord's Day. Though he nor anyone else has ever confirmed it, I've always thought that by not hunting he was paying a kind of self-imposed penance for the Saturday nights in his youth he'd spent in pool halls, and for the Sundays he'd skipped church to chase turkeys.

Copyright ) 1999 by Tom Franklin

Meet the Author

Tom Franklin is the New York Times bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award. His previous works include Poachers, Hell at the Breech, and Smonk. He teaches in the University of Mississippi's MFA program.

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Poachers 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
SavageBS More than 1 year ago
Outstanding collection of short stories! "Poachers" is the kind of short story collection that gets you hooked and sets a high standard for other books of short stories! I found this book by chance and I'm really glad I did! The book has eleven stories in all, the last story being the title story "Poachers", which the author calls a novella. The first story in the book "Intro. / Hunting Years" is actually a true story of the author's childhood hunting days in South Alabama. It's a great story and sets you up for the rest of the book. My favorites= Grit - a thriller, a showdown between the foreman & an employee who is also his bookie at a minerals plant Triathlon - story of two friends, one who settled down and one who never will The Ballad of Duane Juarez - if your going to use an alias, Duane Jaurez is as good as any, a brother is house sitting for a sibling and has no plans to let him down Dinosaurs - a story of the love between a father and son Instinct - a serial killers first time out Alaska - two friends have big dreams and even bigger imaginations Poachers - an excellent story about three brothers who poach the river for a living, no game warden can stop them, everyone in town is either afraid or feels sorry for them, time to call in the legend Frank David (my descriptions by no means do the stories enough justice, I'm just trying to give you a taste without giving away anything revelant) A great read with great writing, no story was too long or too short, a wonderful collection! "Poachers" was Tom Franklins first book, he has two other novels, I plan to read his new book "Smonk: A Novel" soon....
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tom Franklin's debute is one of the most touching and yet furious collections of stories that I have read in recent years. His voice is one of longing and his characters are the poor souls who always seem to fall short of their dreams. His ten stories combine to give the reader a hard long stare into the hard edged South. Franklin's prose is clean and masterful, even his short-shorts have as much depth and feeling as his title novella 'Poachers,' which is a difficult feat for even the most experienced of writers. Three cheers for Franklin one of the most talented and unknown writers to come out of the Deep South in the last few years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
&starf How he Died &hearts he took off his collar and put it on backwards. Next he walked to a cliff overlooking a forest fire and jumped off the cliff into the fire. He then falls and lands on the ground, his neck automatically breaking as he hit the ground at an awkward angle. His collar caught on a branch and flung him up again before he landed in the midst of the fire and burned to cinders. THE END. &starf<p> Y'alls had better be happy now because this is appling to all my rps there. They all die in this fire and no one survives. Not Chillrise, not Dreamlessbound, not anyone. You know where to find me if you truly want me. Not coming back. And I don't think anyone notised, but I was already fed up with everyone being rude so I wasn't planning to actually BE in camp for awhile anyway. Now he's never going to be in camp nor any of my other rps there. Thundercloud is leader in Striking's place and no one can disrespect his authourity. Randi is back-up leader when Thundercloud is not on.<p> &#22225 &#12458 &beta&lambda&epsilon &#12458 &22225
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author is blessed with amazing talent. He is a must-read. Also check out his novel Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.
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