Over the Easter weekend, I hit the Passionate Reader Jackpot–I started and finished a book within the space of the weekend. Truly, that’s one of my favorite things.
The book–“Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” by Tom Franklin. It’s from the fiction portion of the American Library Association Notable Books list.
First–the title. An introductory page tells, “How southern children are taught to spell Mississippi– M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I.”
I might describe this book as a literary mystery. Two men from rural Mississippi were friends as boys, one white, one black. As they grow up, their lives intersect and intertwine. The white man, Larry, is accused while in high school of the murder of a girl who disappears. He endures his role as a scourge of the community. That her body is never found keeps the tension alive. The black man, nicknamed 32 but named Silas, is a constable in the area. When another young woman goes missing 20 years after the first, 32’s attention turns to his old friend.
I don’t want to spoil the story, so no more about the plot.
Looking back on the book, I felt somewhat “underwhelmed” by the conclusion. I expected something more dramatic. But on further reflection, I think that Franklin did right by his story. He’s a master of revealing the story slowly, adding tantalizing ideas and details one by one. I knew that each scene was placed for a reason. He steps right up to the brink, but doesn’t go over.
There are many issues swirling around race, reputation, family ties of love and hate, and maybe even redemption. Those are part of the lives of these fairly everyday people. Franklin draws them realistically.
When I read novels, I usually look for the person that I want to trust, and I wanted to trust 32. I could sense that he wanted to do right by Larry.
I’ll recommend this to many of my reading friends because most of them appreciate novels that reveal the drama behind our everyday lives, and that sometimes reveal the everyday-ness behind the drama. There’s something compelling, too, about the Southern setting with race as a decades-old factor in individual lives. I see a wide audience for “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.”