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Crooked Letter: A Review of Excellence

I loved Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. The structure is perfect, the characters compassionately and truly portrayed, the suspense tight, the language never running away with itself and at times so lovely I had to re-read it.

This is a novel about a quiet hero who is misunderstood by his family and shunned by his community, though he has never hurt a soul, a man who is kind to chickens. It is a novel about another man who is haunted by a choice he made when young, understandable at the time, but which blighted the life of another. And at the end, I cried because the ending was perfect.

My older daughter came to read over my shoulder, wanting to find out what all the fuss was about. “You’d have to read the book,” I said, “otherwise it won’t make sense that I’m crying.” Then she mocked me with an imitation of my boo-ing and hoo-ing, and I can’t get mad over that. I know I am not a pretty sight when I weep over a book.

I was curious to read this novel right after American Rust because they have elements in common. Both revolve around a murder and the unlikely friendship between two boys, one a reader, the other an athlete in an economically faltering, single industry area. The setting is different, the rust belt vs the American south, and the literary approach is very different.

No stream of consciousness for Tom Franklin. (Before I go on, I have to tell you that a part of me just wants to jump up and down and say, oh it’s so good! Read it!) He superbly uses third person narrative to shift between the perspectives of Larry Ott and his one-time friend, Silas Jones, currently a police officer in Mississippi. That Larry is white and Silas black complicated their friendship in the 1970’s, and that complication had long-term and painful consequences. Franklin also shifts in time between the present and the past, gradually and tantalizingly unraveling two related mysteries, a girl gone missing in 1982 and another in the present day.

I read it breathlessly, unable to put it down. Though I guessed at some of the revelations before they came, that didn’t matter because what I really wanted to know was whether wrongs would be righted, whether people could outgrow their old limitations, if they would get the time to do so or if death would get them first. The book is rather shorter than American Rust. At 237 pages it wasted not a word. It’s a tight book and a fabulous one. Just have a look at the opening paragraphs:

The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.

It’d stormed the night before over much of the Southeast, flash floods on the news, trees snapped in half and pictures of trailer homes twisted apart. Larry, forty-one years old and single, lived alone in rural Mississippi in his parents’ house, which was now his house, though he couldn’t bring himself to think of it that way. He acted more like a curator, keeping the rooms clean, answering the mail and paying bills, turning on the television at the right times and smiling with the laugh tracks, eating his McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken to what the networks presented him and then sitting on his front porch as the day bled out of the trees across the field and night settled in, each different, each the same.


Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

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