Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review of Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011)

Crimes in Southern Indiana is a collection of 17 short stories all set in the area and interlinked by characters and common settings such as the Leavenworth Tavern. They are also the darkest set of country noir tales you're ever likely to read. If they were accompanied by a musical score it would be fighting banjos played by Black Sabbath. These are dark, dark stories of the rural underclass and feature murder, revenge, drugs, prostitution, rape, dog fights, bare knuckle boxing, domestic violence, incest, child abuse, mental illness, hit and runs, and immigrant gangs. Bill's tales are populated by the desperate, the needy, the greedy, the lawless, the revengeful, the hapless and the hopeless; people whose moral compass has been whacked off kilter and never reset. Across the stories, the sense of place is palpable and the characterisation excellent. There is a little unevenness in storytelling, ranging from good to outstanding, but each tale is well conceived and paced, using prose that swings at the reader in graceful arcs and wallops in the gut like an iron fist wrapped in silk. The stories might have been ruthless, joyless, bittersweet, cathartic, violent and vengeful, but they evoke a powerful, conflicting affective response of repulsion and admiration. Definitely not a book for everyone, but for those that like their noir as black as the water at the bottom of the Ohio River, this is a must read.

1 comment:

Uriah Robinson said...

We missed all this when we stayed in Southern Indiana! All we found was wiener schnitzel, Lincoln sites, Amish, what must be the biggest Catholic bookshop outside the Vatican, a deserted town called Santa Claus, and German-Americans. ;-)
I will get the book though.