Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is a novel about reverse racism in a small town in the heart of Mississippi.
2 out of 10 stars. I hated this novel. I hated the writing which is sloppy. I hated the storyline which is infuriating. And I hated the stereotypes portrayed within the novel as though the author had no idea what Mississippi was like and just followed a few stereotypes. All the black women in the novel are whores. All the black men are dumb, strong, and selfish. All the white people are either seriously deranged or had bizarre personalities as though that made what happened to them okay. I found myself skimming the book which I almost never do.
The novel is about two half-brothers who don’t even know they’re half-brothers until the very end of the novel. Larry Ott is 41 when the novel opens. His mother is in a home and his father passed away. He lives in their house and keeps everything the way they had it. He runs his father’s mechanic shop and he’s an excellent mechanic but he never has any customers. He doesn’t have a girlfriend and hasn’t in 25 years. Not since Cindy Walker disappeared and he was the last one to see her alive. On this particular day, 19 year old Tina Rutherford has been missing for a week and Larry had an encounter with someone the previous day which makes him think that man is her abductor and killer. His mother’s home calls him and tells him she’s having a good day, so like a good son, he runs home to get a photo album for her and runs into the killer wearing one of his old Halloween masks. The killer shoots him and leaves him for dead.
The following day, the town constable, Silas Jones, finds a the dead body of a local crackhead named Charles Deacon. He calls it in. He also handles a rattlesnake someone put into a mailbox, right across the street from Wallace Stringfellow’s house with his dangerous pitbull, John Wayne Gacy. While Silas is investigating the rattlesnake, which was Wallace’s doing, Larry has been trying to contact him about Wallace being the killer.
The rest of the novel is flashbacks telling the story of Larry and Silas. Larry is white. Silas is black. The town is 95% black and when Larry was in school, he was bullied incessantly by the black students. The black teachers would leave the room and allow this. This was Larry’s life. Then one day his father gives a ride to a black woman named Alice and her son Silas who are standing in the cold freezing. That’s when Larry learns that his father has been cheating on his mother with Alice. Larry befriends Silas, or at least he thinks they’re friends. His mother gives Alice and Silas their old coats and hats. Larry gives him his rifle and gloves. All that summer, Larry does everything for Silas, including going on a date with Cindy Walker. When he takes her home, she insists he drop her off far from her house so she can walk. He doesn’t want to but she insists. What she really does is run into the woods to have sex with Silas. She’s told him she’s pregnant, but she really isn’t. But that little lie was overheard by her father Cecil who kills her for sleeping with a black guy for months. No one ever finds out about the father and her body is never found. Silas never tells anyone about meeting up with Cindy or having sex with her over the summer and because of him, for 25 years, Larry is treated like the town rapist and murderer and pedophile all rolled into one. They taunt him, call him names, constantly pummel his mailbox with baseball bats, and find other ways to make his life miserable. This has been Larry’s life.
Larry is not found until the following day and almost dies of that gunshot wound. He’s been leaving phone messages for Silas since months before, trying to tell him what he suspected about Cindy and about Tina, but Silas hangs up on him and refuses to answer his calls. He also treats him like the town pedophile even though he knows he had nothing to do with Cindy’s disappearance. Or Tina’s. For 25 years every month the town inspector has searched Larry’s house with fake search warrants. All Silas’s fault. Silas finally comes out and says he was the last one to see Cindy alive and it was most likely her father who killed her. Everyone suddenly takes Silas’s word for it because he’s black and because he was a football star in college, although he failed every class.
Silas took off his hat. In the distance, three or four lumps in rags of plaid clothing, lodged in the water among a vista of cypress tress and knees and buzzards black and parliamentary and all the flies a world could need. A large shadow passed him and he looked overhead where more buzzards circled yet, some at near altitudes not colliding but seeming to pass through one another, their wings and tail feathers sun-silvered at the tips. His mouth was dry.
This is one of the chapters told from Silas’s point of view. Silas is the village idiot, dumb as toast. He could not possible think up the words parliamentary, sun-silvered, colliding, or vista. Yet every chapter told from his point of view is this flowery with awkward purple prose that is very out of character. Larry, on the other hand, is member of several book of the month clubs and reads voraciously. This would totally be up his alley. This type of sloppy writing ruins the book. It’s a gimmick book, telling of reverse racism when the reader expects regular racism. That’s the gimmick.
2 out of 10 stars. I couldn’t recommend this to anyone. I was especially irritated by the way Silas treated women. He jumped from one woman’s bed to another and even when he interviewed them about crimes, he was sizing them up as bed partners. Gross.
Reviewed by Jill.