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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
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Group Reads: Post-1990 > Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: June 2012

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Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments 1. The epigraph reveals the origins of the novel's title. Why do you think Tom Franklin chose to use "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter"? What significance does it hold for the story?

2. Describe the boys Larry and Silas were, and the men they became. What drew Larry and Silas together as children? What separated them? How did you feel about both characters?

3. When Larry is shot at the beginning of the novel, he is sympathetic to his attacker: "Larry felt forgiveness for him because all monsters were misunderstood." Does Larry consider himself to be a monster? Why? Why isn't he bitter? Could you be as charitable if you were in his place? Why does he say all monsters are misunderstood? Do you think he feels the same way at the end of the novel?

4. During the attack, the shooter is wearing an old monster mask that Larry recognizes. What does that mask symbolize for both the victim and his attacker?

5. Tom Franklin goes back and forth between past and present to tell his story. How are Larry and Silas prisoners of their childhoods? How can we break the past's hold on us?

6. Talk about both boys' relationships to their mothers. How did their mothers shape them? Were they good sons? What kind of people were their mothers? Why does Silas go to see Larry's mother in the nursing home? When he was a little boy, Larry's mother used to pray for God to send him a special friend, "one just for him." Were her prayers answered?

7. After Silas, Larry considered Wallace Stringfellow to be his friend. What was the bond between Larry and Wallace? What attracted one to the other? Were they really friends? What is a friend?

8. As an adult, Larry also prayed to God: "Please forgive my sins, and send me some business. Give Momma a good day tomorrow or take her if it's time. And help Wallace, God. Please." What were Larry's sins? Why did he pray for Wallace? What did Larry see in Wallace?

9. Larry felt he was to blame for Wallace's tragic choices. Do you think he was responsible at all? What about Silas? How much responsibility do we carry for others? For family? Friends? Strangers? How much responsibility does the community bear for Wallace's actions?

10. How does Larry react when Silas tells him the truth about their childhood? Can true friends overcome betrayal? How? Do you think they will be part of each other's lives going forward?

11. Silas left southern Mississippi, then returned. Larry never left. Why did they make the decisions they did? What was it about their small town that drew and kept them there? How does place shape the novel? Could this have happened in any small town?

12. How is racism a part of the story? Use Larry and Silas's experiences to support your response.

13. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is also a coming-of-age story. How did the characters come into themselves as the story progressed? What possibilities might the future hold for Larry and Silas?

14. At the novel's end, Tom Franklin writes, "The land had a way of covering the wrongs of people." What does he mean by this?


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments I apologize for jumping the gun! Once I got started with the book, I couldn't put it down...


Kathleen | 127 comments I haven't started my reread of this yet, but I was reading the questions, I hit the one about the monster mask and started crying. For me, that whole scene was absolutely emotionally gut wrenching. Thanks for sharing these.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Since we have some in house experts, I wonder how accurately the legal aspects of this book are portrayed. For one small example, "he could make a stump confess to saying 'timber'."


message 5: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
I love this book, but it has broken my heart.


Alison Law (alisonlaw) This was one of my favorite reads last year. Glad the group's discussing it.


Jeffrey Keeten (jkeeten) This book flows like river water. I was done before I'd hardly realized I'd begun. I posted my review this morning. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


Christopher (chriswinters) I just finished the book and the first question in the reading guide (the significance of the title) stumps me. Why did Franklin choose to name his novel "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter"? Sure, it's based in Mississippi, but that can't be the only reason. It flashes back to Larry's and Silas's childhoods (although much later than they would have been learning how to spell "Mississippi"), but it could be a reference to the learning process the characters go through. Silas's name has a crooked letter at each end.

But I dunno. I couldn't think of any better answer. Anyone else?

In an interview, this is all Tom Franklin had to say about the title: "Title's a pneumonic device used to teach children (mostly southern children) how to spell Mississippi. M, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, crooked-letter, crooked-letter, I, humpback, humback, I."


Kathleen | 127 comments I remember hearing him at a reading and it seems like he said the same thing. I am not sure it was supposed to mean anything else. If so, I don't have a good guess.


message 10: by Randall (last edited Jun 09, 2012 09:44PM) (new)

Randall Luce | 138 comments Christopher wrote: "I just finished the book and the first question in the reading guide (the significance of the title) stumps me. Why did Franklin choose to name his novel "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter"? Sure, it'..."

I'm a little more than half-way through the novel now. The only thing I can say about your question is, that Franklin seems to be saying that the title of the book really is "Mississippi." So, what is it about the story that makes it "Mississippi"? He seems to be saying he's going for something he feels is essential about the state (or, at least the particular part of Mississippi in which he's located the story).

I think he does a great job at conveying place, particularly in the early part of the book. The best scenes, to me, are the ones between Larry and Silas. The others seem to lose a little something. But all in all, so far, a very good read. I hadn't heard about Franklin before (my knoweldge of Southern writers pretty much stops in the 1960s) so I'm glad this group has introduced some of the more contemporary ones to me.


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Christopher wrote: "I just finished the book and the first question in the reading guide (the significance of the title) stumps me. Why did Franklin choose to name his novel "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter"? Sure, it'..."

I had the impression (which also may just be mine) that an intrinsic part of Mississippi is the "crookedness" of it. There is no straight line to anything: parentage, relationships, legality, etc.


message 12: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
I agree with you, Jessie. Nothing is what it seems in this book. Poor Larry, the "monster" is the sweetest, most innocent person in the story. He even goes to a great deal of trouble just to give his chickens a change of scene every day, for goodness sake! He buys Christmas presents for the women in his mother's room in the rest home, even though he doesn't know them. The author gives us lots of details about his daily life that show us what a good man he is. I suppose that Silas was part monster because he let Larry carry the cloud of suspicion for 25 years, while he went on with his life. Larry's father was not a good man at all, certainly not to his wife and son, yet he had the respect of the community. And Larry was so lonely, he befriended the true monster who murdered the girl and buried her in his cabin. The Zombie mask was a sweet piece of symbolism.


Tammy | 3 comments SPOILER
I read the book and it was a fast read and a page turner . I am from the south and we learn to spell Mississippi that way and I love the title because of it and it was a pretty crooked story also . I also like his dialogue and how he discribed the small town . I could see it in my mind and that says good writing . I just had one problem with the plot and I can not believe the editor did not see it ,the part where The dead girl larry was accuse of killing , Why did they not have it added that she was found in that house buried under the floor and cleared larry' name more . But besides that I think Mr Franklin might well be the next Faulkner as he keeps writing more . I will be reading his next story.


Christopher (chriswinters) Tammy wrote: "SPOILER
I read the book and it was a fast read and a page turner . I am from the south and we learn to spell Mississippi that way and I love the title because of it and it was a pretty crooked st..."


Personally, I'm glad the author left Cindy's fate somewhat unclear. In life there are many unknowns and I think it's a mark of good fiction to leave some things unanswered. (Although it's pretty certain that her stepfather killed her.) Also, I don't think finding her body under the cabin would have helped matters. Because Larry was the only one who knew about the cabin (aside from Silas), he'd still be the prime suspect.


message 15: by Christopher (last edited Jun 14, 2012 06:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Christopher (chriswinters) I just read a review of Crooked Letter where somebody's main criticism of the book was that it included the word "nigger" multiple times. I think it's an invalid criticism of the book, but it speaks to a large issue within Southern literature. Does it bother you all when the n-word is used in literature?

Within Crooked Letter it does not bother me one bit. I think one must consider the intentions of the author. Every book I've read that uses racial slurs uses it in dialogue or in a character's thoughts and thus I don't think you can fault the author for racism. If the slur is consistent with a character, it's okay and it's a fallacy to think of it as the author's own voice.

However, I also recently read a review of McCarthy's Suttree in which the reviewer faulted the author for his consistent use of "the black" for certain characters within narration, not dialogue. I still think it's an invalid reason for discounting the book as a whole, but it does seem different than Franklin's use of the n-word.

Any thoughts?


Tammy | 3 comments Christopher wrote: "Tammy wrote: "SPOILER
I read the book and it was a fast read and a page turner . I am from the south and we learn to spell Mississippi that way and I love the title because of it and it was a pre..."


Hello Christopher , I meant to say her house. Maybe if they could have found her body buried there and went public with the step father killing her . Anyway I just felt everything was tied up to quick in the end . And Larry was not exonerated like he should have been.
Just Saying....I would have like something great for Larry for all what he went thru . {smile}


Christopher (chriswinters) Tammy wrote: "Christopher wrote: "Tammy wrote: "SPOILER
I read the book and it was a fast read and a page turner . I am from the south and we learn to spell Mississippi that way and I love the title because of..."


Oh okay, I understand now. I still like where Larry was at the end, though. His mother prayed throughout the book that God would send him a special friend, one just for him. I'm not sure Larry wants to be a popular person and to be liked by all - he just wants one good friend. And I think by the end of the book, Silas is ready to be it. So maybe that is the great something you wanted for Larry!


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Christopher wrote: "I just read a review of Crooked Letter where somebody's main criticism of the book was that it included the word "nigger" multiple times. I think it's an invalid criticism of the book, but it speak..."

I don't have a problem with controversial language in literature, whether it's dialogue or narration. Who is to say that the narrator is the author? When was the work written? What time period or place does the work portray? Blanket statements are just not something that can be applied to language in these instances.

Sensitivity to issues is something that people have trouble defining, depending on their backgrounds, their education, their "exposure" to diversity, etc.


Kathleen | 127 comments I hate the word and shudder at its use, but part of the beauty of this book is that it captures the language of the rural part of Mississippi so well. Offensive as the word is, some people around here say it (and more than an occasional one or two). I suspect it gets used a lot more when folks are sure everyone around them is in accord. So, while I mentally bleep it in my head, which does not add to the reading experience, it needs to be in there. To have edited around it would have led to falseness.


message 20: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
Denying that something happened or that certain words were not used does not make it go away. I have very little patience with people or groups who are so easily offended that they want to abolish all instances of the offending word. Should we ban Huckleberry Finn as some school systems have tried to do? We should be glad that the word or words is now recognized as unacceptable, and read the novel in the spirit intended by the author.


message 21: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Everitt wrote: "Jessie, thank you for the great contribution to the discussion. I've not gotten a hold of the book yet and thus have been unable to post anything about it. Great work!"

Let me second Everitt's thanks for submitting the reader's guide. I certainly appreciate your setting up this thread. I think it's been a great thread for the discussion of the novel. Now that I'm done with my re-read and updated review, I'm hitting the thread. There's some great stuff on here.

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Diane wrote: "Should we ban Huckleberry Finn as some school systems have tried to do?"

I started to write something about Huckleberry Finn yesterday, but it reminded me of a more ludicrous situation, so I didn't.

One of the public library branches in my city, located in a predominately black neighborhood, is named after a former librarian. That's nice. She was very active in the United Daughters of the Confederacy. That's fine, too. How do I know this? Her service to the library *and* the UDC is lauded in a giant plaque in her honor located inside the branch library. *That* is probably a little strange for the patrons. ;^)


Tammy | 3 comments Diane wrote: "Denying that something happened or that certain words were not used does not make it go away. I have very little patience with people or groups who are so easily offended that they want to abolish..."

I so agree ! You took the words right out of my mouth.


message 24: by Randall (last edited Jun 20, 2012 11:55PM) (new)

Randall Luce | 138 comments I finished Crooked Letter a few days ago. I'm not from the South but I spend over a year in Mississippi, in the Delta, doing some research. One thing that all Mississippian's are proud of: the communal aspect of their culture. I was told, when two Mississippians meet for the first time (the assumption was that they'd be of the same race) they'd go into their extended family histories, looking for a relative in common; failing that, friends of relatives, co-workers of relatives, until they found somebody they both knew of -- the common link that would define their relationship as co-members of the same tribe.

Mississippi is just like its name sounds -- a slow, warm, beautiful state, where people feel secure in community, in belonging. Where I was born and raised, there was nothing like it. I found it facinating. Nothing beats it -- if you know your place.

It's not just Mississippi, and it's not just the South. Reading Crooked Letter brought to mind the end of Dennis Lehane's book Mystic River. (view spoiler)

To me, that's what Crooked Letter is about: the power of community to support and comfort, but also to cast out. (view spoiler)

Two men, estranged but brothers, bent all out of shape because of what community demands. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter indeed.


Jessie J (subseti) | 296 comments Randall wrote: "I finished Crooked Letter a few days ago. [snip] One thing that all Mississippian's are proud of: the co..."

I agree with you to a point, regarding your spoiler text. And since the story is set in the 1990s (am I remembering correctly?), it would be a little bit different than today, even.

I'm not sure that the community reception would be quite as bleak. Remember that "extended family history" you talked about at the beginning?

(view spoiler)


message 26: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
We've had some fine discussion on this month's Post Faulkner read. For any interested, my review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letteris available at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... .

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


message 27: by Randall (new)

Randall Luce | 138 comments "I agree with you to a point, regarding your spoiler text. And since the..."

To answer your spoiler question, I think the officer said that to protect the community.

Maybe I'm too jaded. But again, I look at how the book ends. I think Franklin wanted the book to end on an up-note, but he ends it before the community finds out what had really happened. To me, that means once the community does find out ....

Or maybe Franklin just wanted his readers to fill that part in for themselves, however they would.


Thing Two (thingtwo) | 82 comments Think y'all might enjoy this article after finishing Franklin's mystery.

http://www.themillions.com/2012/06/th...


Franky | 327 comments KJ, thanks for that post. That is great stuff! It seems like movies always resort to the last one, the big twist, the most. I tend to think that books use the 2nd one.

I just finished this novel, so I'm still reflecting a bit on the book, but it seems like many of the critical reviewers didn't see the mystery as being very difficult to decipher or solve, and complain about this. To me, the mystery aspect was kind of secondary to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I think Larry and Silas' fates are more important.

But, your post was spot on, definitely. I think there is only so much a writer can do to craft a well-written mystery and keep it unique and unobvious. There are many angles he or she can take to create confusion and suspense, but these must be narrowed down by the conclusion.


Thing Two (thingtwo) | 82 comments Franky wrote: "To me, the mystery aspect was kind of secondary to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I think Larry and Silas' fates are more important ... "

I agree, Franky, and frankly I was surprised reviewers complained about the mystery being too easy to see. I thought they missed the over-all point of Franklin's story; the mystery was simply his tool to show us how Mississippi (or the south, since he actually grew up in Alabama) looked to him in the 70s.


message 31: by Randall (new)

Randall Luce | 138 comments I didn't even think of the book as a mystery, in that the main purpose of a mystery is to have a detective of some sort solve it before the reader does. That's not how Crooked Letter is constructed. Silas' actions aren't so focused on solving the crime. Like KJ and Franky said, Franklin had other fish to fry.


Kathleen | 127 comments I agree with you, Randall. I would not have even classified this as a mystery.


message 33: by Cyndee (new)

Cyndee Thomas Thanks to this group, I will read "Crooked Letter. I am a new member. Thank you for this group discussion.


message 34: by Shaun (last edited Jun 30, 2012 09:56AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Shaun Ryan Loved the prose and characters. I agree that the plot was somewhat secondary and somewhat simple; it wasn't tangled and convoluted but layered, which was vital and true, and also the final touch to the last and biggest character—the setting. In that simpler, slower time and place, the convolutions ran in layers and currents, like rivers of dark and light.

Franklin's "mystery" felt like blood from an opened vein. It burned my eyes sometimes as I peeled away the layers to look at the heart, even if I did see much of it coming.

We're the ones all tangled up. And seeing a train bearing down, if its thunderous vibration resonates,sometimes only heightens the emotional response.

Definitely read more Franklin; got Poachers sitting on the desk in the queue. His choice of crime to spice his southern gothic grabs me, where a lot of southern writers don't, despite their wonderful prose and eye for character. It's a resonance thing, like I said. I'm not southern, I'm southewestern. I like dark truth in fiction; crime does that, in a very human way. Franklin nails it.


message 35: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
That was beautifully put, Ryan. I agree with every word you wrote.


message 36: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane Barnes | 4115 comments Mod
Sorry, I meant Shaun.


Shaun Ryan No need for apologies. I just thought you was a drill sergeant. :)

And thanks.


Thing Two (thingtwo) | 82 comments I enjoyed this book. Thanks to whoever recommended it. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


Doug H I'm way late to the party but I loved this novel and wanted to share my thoughts:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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