Monday, June 22, 2015

Review of The Long Home by William Gay (Faber, 1999)

Raised by his bitter mother in a small rural Tennessee community, Nathan Winer grew up listening to complaints about his father deserting them.  The truth is far more sinister and over the course of a long, hot summer in the 1940s, as Nathan reaches his late teens, it threatens to be revealed.  First he works in a chicken farm, then he takes up his father’s old carpentry tools to work on the small holding of Hardin, a mean spirited, ruthless man who runs the local illegal liquor trade.  There he falls for Amber Rose, the daughter of the woman Hardin is living with.  Despite warnings from Hardin and the elderly William Tell Oliver, Nathan pursues Amber Rose, regardless of the potential consequences.

The Long Home is a literary crime tale set in rural Tennessee in the 1940s that is driven forward mainly through its character development and its sense of foreboding rather than a central hook.  Gay creates a somewhat claustrophobic, menacing atmosphere amongst a poor, backwoods community, producing a strong sense of place and time.  At times it seems that Gay is more interested in constructing beautiful prose than the story, with many passages feeling overwritten.  Nonetheless, as the tale progresses it becomes quite gripping as the young Nathan Winer, advised by the elderly William Tell Oliver, comes of age as he tangles with Hardin, a dangerous racketeer, in pursuit of Amber Rose.  The result is a thoughtful, dark, sombre read that just about manages to balance style with substance.

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