“Brilliant . . . Larry Brown has slapped his own fresh tattoo on the big right arm of Southern Lit.” —The Washington Post Book World
Now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage, directed by David Gordon Green.
Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won’t slow down--not in his pickup, not with a gun, and certainly not with women. Gary Jones estimates his own age to be about fifteen. Born luckless, he is the son of a hopeless, homeless wandering family, and he’s desperate for a way out. When their paths cross, Joe offers him a chance just as his own chances have dwindled to almost nothing. Together they follow a twisting map to redemption--or ruin.
With this powerful, immensely affecting novel Brown comes into his own as a writer of stature. As in his previous books ( Dirty Work ; Big Bad Love ), his subjects are poor Southern rednecks who exist from day to day, from hand to mouth, in tar-paper shacks and shabby mobile homes. Some are hard, mean and utterly lacking in moral fiber; others, such as the eponymous protagonist, try to live with integrity and dignity despite limited opportunities, despite the ingrained, ubiquitous habit of drinking prodigious amounts of beer and whiskey. Joe Ransom is almost 50, newly divorced, with bitter recollections of years spent in the pen for assaulting a police officer while drunk. A product of his time and place, Joe is reckless, self-destructive, hard-driving, hard-drinking, sometimes ruthless, but he is essentially kindhearted and decent. Joe manages a crew of black laborers who poison trees for a lumber company. When he gives a temporary job to teenage Gary Jones, part of a migratory family so destitute the boy has never seen a toothbrush or understood the significance of a traffic light, Joe is touched by the boy's dogged determination to work although Gary's alcoholic, vicious, amoral father takes the money as soon as Gary earns it. In his own laconic way Joe acts as mentor for Gary, until, in the novel's wrenching conclusion, fate and Joe's own stubborn morality wrench them apart. Seamlessly constructed, the novel hums with perfect pitch, with language as lean and unsparing as the poverty-mired Mississippi rural community Brown depicts. He has achieved mastery of descriptive detail, demonstrated in scenes that variously depict the contents of a country general store, a bloody dogfight, men butchering a deer, Joe cleaning out bullet wounds in his arm without an anesthetic, a punishing rainstorm. The dialogue is as natural as spring water. Brown never condescends to his uneducated, gambling-addicted, casually promiscuous characters; with compassion and eloquence, he illumines their painful lives and gives them worth.