“A tale of three young men who’ve taken one look at straight life and drop-kicked it . . . Picaresque, sly, bitterly funny, the novel hooks us at once.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Met with wide acclaim, Arkansas is a darkly comic debut novel written by John Brandon about a pair of drug runners, Kyle and Swin, set in the rural southeast. Drawing comparisons to a striking range of storytellers, from Quentin Tarantino and Mark Twain to Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy, John Brandon—an MFA graduate of Washington University who worked an array of odd jobs while writing the novel, including at a rubber factory and a windshield warehouse—delivers a tightly written, bitterly funny story that chronicles the monochromatic landscape of the American southeast and gives a glimpse into the mindset of his wildly troubled yet seemingly real characters.
“Brandon’s premier novel is a must for those who love the criminal and the stern, yet dark optimism of the existential. His vision of Arkansas is unique, his wit is sharp, and the sympathy he has for his characters is genuine. For all the dark alleys Brandon explores, both physically and psychologically, Arkansas’s power rests in its redefining and restructuring of the criminal’s only hope: family.” —PopMatters
Brandon introduces his main characters gradually in his quirky debut about a bunch of rootless drifters who form an unstable drug-distribution network in Arkansas: Swin Ruiz, who pulls his first scam before dropping out of college; Kyle Ribb, a shoplifter who stumbles on a job as a courier; and mysterious Ken Hovan (aka "Froggy" or "Frog"), who begins with bootleg tapes but graduates to run the shadowy organization. Tangential characters include a middleman, Pat Bright, who oversees Swin and Ruiz in their nebulous and phony cover jobs in a state park, and a black woman known only as "Her," who passes packets and instructions to the couriers. As Swin and Kyle try to puzzle out how to survive in a crumbling organization, their futile attempts to create some semblance of a normal life evoke only pathos. Not evil as such, these unsympathetic people simply fall into a rut that leads inevitably to violence and death.