karen's Reviews > Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
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Jun 12, 12

bookshelves: appalachian-noir-southern-gothic, grit-lit
Read from September 02 to 04, 2011


it is totally okay to float old reviews when you suddenly have a picture of yourself and the author to attach to them. also, when you are bored. but only once a day. anything more than that becomes boring. or desperate.



one of the best books i have read, ever.

and exactly what i was looking for when i posted my query in my very own readers' advisory group. so, thank you, james, this is a perfect suggestion to the kind of book i was looking for. and i am going to immerse myself in tom franklin's backlist and tell all my friends, etc.

but right now,i don't know how to review it. with a book this meaty, i find it difficult to do plot-reviews without giving away too much, as i get overexcited about sharing the book. will does a good job, though, with dignified restraint. i can only do tone-reviews of something that kicked my ass so hard.

remember when stephen king paid a lot of attention to the craft of writing, before he became a machine of churning out books editors were afraid to edit because he's stephen bloody king, and he "knows what he's doing??" stephen king became stephen king because he started out as a careful storyteller. he always had a knack for building and filling a scene, creating characters with dimensions, and building tension around them that was more powerful because the characters were fleshed-out and not just stand-ins for something for the action to happen to. this is what a lot of modern horror writers forget, that it's not just about scary things happening, it is about scary things happening to characters who have begun to matter to the reader.

and this is not a horror novel, but the tremendous larry ott character does read a lot of stephen king throughout this novel, as a kid and as an adult, and the childhood scenes read a lot like stephen king, to me, before some sort of alien or clown comes to get 'em. the coming of age, eye-opening stuff, far from idyllic, is so richly detailed. and larry ott and silas jones are characters to care about, despite all their mistakes and how you wanna just shake both of them sometimes.

the story is a different kind of horror. life is brutal with murder and racism and persecution and hollow loneliness and missed opportunities. this is such a frustrating situation. books like this kill me - when characters endure years of isolation and heartache that could be resolved with one conversation. but by "kill me", i of course mean "delight me."

okay, some basic plot.

larry ott is the town whipping boy, ever since the first girl he took to a drive-in vanished without a trace. now, he is 41, lives in his childhood home, while his mother lingers in a nursing home, his abusive father is dead, and he buys a lot of books through the mail. already ostracized, vandalized, and avoided - when another girl goes missing, suspicion naturally falls on him.

silas jones is now the town constable, returned after many years away. his is a story of life on the other side of the color divide, with a single mother trying to raise him, essentially squatting in larry's father's shed, where they strike up a boyhood friendship ultimately marred by larry's father and the cruelties of adolescence.

larry as a kid is heartbreaking. so earnest, so smart, so reaching out for affection.

silas - oh, god - his mother's story, so buried in his own, is worth the whole of the book. i am choking with tenderness and silas-anger.

i just loved this book. the mystery, the characters, the quiet of it all. it is sad, but resigned to its own sadness. anything else i could say would just be inarticulate squawking.

thanks to dana and the harpercollins half-off hook-up!
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 85) (85 new)


Greg First! Again!!


karen shouldn't you be working?


karen it is definitely up there. much better than the wuthering heights graphic novel, at any rate.


Greg I am working. I just told a European to try the Strand to find his out of print art book before he jets home tomorrow.


karen wow board!


Krok Zero I liked this book a good deal but it never would have occurred to me that it would be one of anyone's favorite books ever, much less yours. You never know what will strike deep chords with people. FWIW I like both of T-Frank's other novels better.


karen it rings my daniel woodrell/ron rash bells. and deep down, my steinbeck/hardy ones. i like remote smalltown blues, desperation, utter hopelessness, narrow options, all of those obstacles pitted against the small, nurtured flame of human stubbornness.


message 8: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen It sounds like a personal ad calling out for Carson McCullers to answer.


karen i should read her. and stewart o'nan.


Andrew I'm ten pages into this and am off on holiday for a week tomorrow. I'm looking forward to reading it even more after reading your review


karen into the franklin??


karen oh, obviously... sorry, i thought i was on the other RA thread. derrr


message 13: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen karen wrote: "i should read her. and stewart o'nan."

I think you did read some of her stuff...I thought I had checked at one point. Member of the Wedding?


karen oh, yeah, but when i was 12.


i don't remember it at all....


Andrew Yeah, into the Franklin I started it yesterday with high expectations after reading all the reviews. I do love a book set in the South and the prospect of getting stuck into this on the beach, beer in hand excites me no end!


karen i am excited for you, truly.
while i toil here.


Andrew Don't be too excited i'm holidaying in Dorset (south west coast of england) which invariably means it will piss down with rain all week. Don't toil to hard!


message 18: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen karen wrote: "i should read her. and stewart o'nan."

Do you not have the O'Nan? Because I owe you a book and I'd like to repay you with a small black and white bleak one. It's only fair. say yes.


karen oh god i love pissing rain. it is my favorite weather, seriously.


i do not own any o'nan, no....
but you just gave me like 30 presents!


Patricia I have this one on my "to read" list for a while. After reading your review, I'm thinking I need to move it up to the top and get started on it this weekend!


karen i agree!! you do!!


message 22: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen I'm taking #22 as it should be taken:

meant for moi.

But I'll play nice and just bring it with me on my 2011 new year resolution tour. whenever that is.


message 23: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen I will not argue about the number of presents (although you are wrong and it was not 30)

Let's meet in the middle here and acknowledge that one of those presents was a baby's head in a box.

Sure, it was scented. But think of the baby for a minute. The baby might not have wanted to be a gift.


karen ha! you will see how happy we are together as soon as greg gives me back my cord


message 25: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen you never cease to impress me.


karen oh just wait - there will be photo montage....


message 27: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Your best book ever should be included in all the lists: 1001, 501, Time, Oprah, Metalist, Guardian. You see, coming from you, how could they have missed this book?


karen i know!! we didn't even have it in the store - i had to order it in!!!

now we have five copies.


message 29: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Oh well, I'll order too and distribute copies for Christmas.


karen excellent! the saddest christmas ever!


message 31: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes How many years will it take me to live down "dignified restraint?"


karen sheeeit. i meant that you managed to give good plot synopsis while neither giving away too much nor getting overexcited, as i tend to.

your review is great, and has a great first line.

YOU LIVE DOWN MY ADMIRATION!


message 33: by Will (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes Wow! Hooda thunk? I hear "dignified restraint" and think designer manacles underneath my shawl as I rock on the porch slurping warm milk, wondering what it was I had just forgotten. But I did quite enjoy writing that first line, so thanks. And your plot summaries look just fine from here on the rocker.

Your SK admiration is spot-on. It is exactly King's development of character that makes readers care what happens to them. Franklin is clearly a fan. I stopped counting SK book names at eight. There may be more. He certainly did set up Larry as a King-like character, quite successfully. That resonance is strong, as you deftly point out. Also in that vein were references to du Maurier's The Birds, overtly and covertly
He [Silas] remembered somebody, Larry Ott, telling him that once a flock of buzzards took to roosting in a tree, the tree began to die.
and Bloch's Psycho to add to the atmospherics.


karen ha! manacles!

i am totally sold on tom franklin. i will probably burn through the rest of his books in the next few months and then be left adrift with nothing more to read, bewildered


message 35: by Will (last edited Sep 11, 2011 06:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes :-( and o_0

So many of us afloat in that boat


Cynthia I saw several copies of this in the Atlanta airport this week. Good review, Karen!


karen way to go, atlanta!!

and thank you!


karen they know that you secretly want an excuse to read dragon romances.


karen oh, jeez - but i don't even know what they might have.


have you heard of the help??? hmmmm???


Andrew what a book; loved everything about it! I have been recommending it with evengelical zeal to my family and friends


karen yes!! do that !!


karen hahahahaha it's not that bad, really!


but not for you.


message 43: by Esteban (new) - added it

Esteban del Mal larry ott is the town whipping boy, ever since the first girl he took to a drive-in vanished without a trace. now, he is 41, lives in his childhood home, while his mother lingers in a nursing home, his abusive father is dead, and he buys a lot of books through the mail. already ostracized, vandalized, and avoided - when another girl goes missing, suspicion naturally falls on him.

Sounds like your run of the mill Goodreader.


karen we kidnap allll the ladies...


message 45: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen Definitely a book for my karen summer.


karen karen summer!!! 2012!! take that, mayans!!!


message 47: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen Oh no! I thought they got Christmas. (I've made end times plans! Will I have to cancel my parties?)


karen keep planning your party, but save your receipts.


message 49: by Greg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Greg it is totally okay to float old reviews when you suddenly have a picture of yourself and the author to attach to them. also, when you are bored. but only once a day. anything more than that becomes boring. or desperate.

You mean it's desperate when you float your reviews every fifteen minutes and make sure it never leaves the update feed?


karen yeah, but only if you don't have photos of yourself and the author. if i do it, it is cute.


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