Will Byrnes's Reviews > Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
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Worst first date ever. Poor Larry Ott, the bookish kid, the weak one, a smallish white boy, the bully-target at school, takes out the girl of his dreams, returns home alone, and gets blamed for her presumed rape and murder. Decades later, ostracized by the town, living alone in the same house he grew up in, tending his late, abusive father’s garage, another girl goes missing and all fingers point his way. Did he or didn’t he?

But Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter tells of two twisted lives. As a kid, Silas came to town when his mother, Alice, had to flee a bad situation in Chicago. He and Larry became friends. But after high school, black baseball-star Silas left for college, then stayed away until decades later when he returns, joining the local police department. Why?

The book takes us back and forth between the present day, the investigation into the latest disappearance, and the story of Silas and Larry’s ill-fated friendship.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a tale of black and white told in shades of gray. Franklin's main characters display human strengths and weaknesses. He shows the racial environment and tension in 1970s Mississippi, reduced, but still far from dissipated today. We see that people act on what they believe rather than on what they know. Where does purity lie? Truth? Atonement? Forgiveness? Although Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter offers a piercing account of life in rural Mississippi it holds resonance beyond the time and place. The sort of people who find Larry peculiar because he reads are the same ones who deny evolution, global warming or the holocaust.

The atmosphere of the place is very nicely drawn as history seeps from the past into the present in forms physical as well as psychic. Too much looks the same as it did way back when, only more eroded.

Franklin drew a lot on his own childhood. Like Larry, his father was a mechanic; he lived on the outskirts of a small southern town; he was a bookish kid in a place where that was not a good thing to be; he was a loner. And while he was not so ostracized in real life as his stand-in is in his novel, he knows of what he speaks. Tom Franklin has written a very moving tale about being an outsider. You will feel for Larry.

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter has received a flood of critical approval. And there is a lot to like here, engaging characters, a good depiction of place and time, powerful imagery in the form of serpents and masks. It seems like a sure thing. And I did enjoy the book. But the straight dope is that it did not do for me what it seems to have done for some other readers. Franklin is clearly a very good writer, but is hardly the second coming of Faulkner. Read, and enjoy, but keep your expectations grounded and you will not be disappointed.

A review of a later novel by Franklin, co-authored with his wife, Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World
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Reading Progress

October 13, 2010 – Started Reading
October 13, 2010 – Shelved
October 13, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Will (last edited Sep 23, 2012 06:27AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Will Byrnes I see the overall rating is 3.78, which means there are a lot of us out there who do not see this as a five star book. I am reminded, in a way, about the hype for The Passage , my disappointment, and the shared disappointment of so many others. (Yes, I know you gave it four stars) CLCL is a much better book than that one, IMHO, but I think some readers were maybe dazzled by the use of a few literary mechanisms in CLCL into seeing it as more than it is.

I am reminded also of a similar reaction to The Night Circus.A lot of writerly dazzle with a minimum of actual content, and lots and lots of hype by Doubleday, who are fantasizing about a big and continuous payday.

Will Byrnes Oops, Night CIRCUS is what I meant. I will be offering a 3, although I would like to be able to give half-stars. Points are merited for razzle dazzle, but razzling and dazzling at the expense of what could have been a very satisfying romance kills it for me.

Carol A very fine review of a really good story.

Will Byrnes Thanks, Carol

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