Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Wettest County in the World (copy)

While reading this week’s book, I keep thinking men of manly stature would really enjoy this. Specifically, I think the kind of man that does not mind taking a blow to the face as long as he can return the lick. Okay, close your eyes and think author Harry Crews’ style of writing mixed with the hardships of Frazier’s Cold Mountain, and then add the uncertainty of bootlegging stump whiskey on a wintry night.

New book, The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, is a male book clubs’ dream. I can see the members, with aged bourbon in hand, having a lively discussion over this one.

Based on a true story that was passed down—piece meal—through the family until Bondurant took notice, it tells the story of great-grandfather’s bootlegging days. I say piece meal because Bondurant’s own father did not know his dad had a bullet would until a little before his death. “Oh yeah, shot me through here, and raised his shirt to show my father the entry wound under his arm. Not much more was said about it after that, which is the way my father’s family communicated about such things.”

The story opens in 1918 when the Bondurant family is whole. The youngest member eight-year-old Jack has a .22 rifle aimed at a sow slated for slaughter while his father and one older brother are tamping down the tobacco pit. The first attempt and the sow wakes up, the second attempt and the sow is a little miffed, the third attempt and the sow is dazed. At this point older brother Forrest jumps into the pen and finishes the job with a knife.

The following year, older brother Howard waits on an army troop ship anchored off the Norfolk harbor. The ship is quarantined since most the men have the Spanish Lady Flu. When he finally arrives home to Franklin County, Virginia, his family notices he is weak with a caved in chest. The family is back together, but Howard is a changed man. The next month brings the epidemic home where mother and two sisters die.

Time jumps as the first chapter opens in 1934 and reporter Sherwood Anderson is sent to Franklin County to cover the mutilation of two suspected bootleggers. A county, through 1935 records, that shows “99 people out of 100 are making, or have some connection with, illicit liquor.”

Forewarning to the story is a quote by Mr. Anderson that opens part one. “Cruelty, like breadfruit and pineapples, is a product, I believe, of the South.”