Frank Bill is back with a gritty, wrenching novel from deep inside the traumas of a broken American heartland.
Miles is a Vietnam veteran who’s worried he’s going to lose his job—and with it his tenuous grasp on a stable life—over a fight with a coworker. His PTSD and struggles to control his steroid-fueled violent tendencies also complicate his relationship with his girlfriend, Shelby, a stripper who only occasionally displays the proverbial heart of gold. She’s certainly kinder and more generous than her brother, Wylie, who has been implicated in the deaths of two local Oxy dealers and is currently on the run. When Wylie kidnaps Shelby and holes up in Miles’s country lair, it all threatens to become a bit too much for Miles.
As Frank Bill peels back the layers of Miles’s history, going deep into his memories of the Vietnam War, Back to the Dirt gets to the root of the traumas that have caused Miles and his community so much adversity. In this blistering novel, Bill reaches for the core values—living close to the land, working with your hands—that have been obscured by generations of neglect, drug abuse, and desperation. This is a profound and important story of an America that is only beginning to get its due attention—and Frank Bill is its most visceral, essential chronicler.
Bill's feverish latest (after The Savage) shines a light on an American heartland blighted by crushed dreams and debilitating addictions. Among the working-class characters in Corydon, Ind., is Miles Knox, a 57-year-old Vietnam vet who works in the local paint-additive factory in the early 2000s. Miles is so haunted by memories of war that he converses with dead buddies as though they're still alive and guzzles steroids to keep those thoughts at bay. Miles's much younger girlfriend, Shelby McCutchen, works as a stripper and looks after her twin brother, Wylie, who's addicted to Oxycontin. Wylie's supplier, Bedford Timberlake, has just died, and Bedford's ex-cop brother, Nathaniel, thinks Wylie killed him. The paths of these and numerous others converge over the course of a gore-spattered and drug-laced day of reckoning, as Nathaniel sets out to get revenge for Bedford's death. Bill refracts the events through a variety of viewpoints, with some of the characters so compromised by drugs that the story turns surreal. With kinetic prose, Bill keeps up the pace and delivers a steady supply of grisly details (a dead man laid out on a floor is "smeared like a dream one couldn't recollect, being delivered in fragments and knots of bone and red to a parched mind"). It makes for one hell of a ride.