Magazine article The Spectator

Something Nasty in the Woodshed

Magazine article The Spectator

Something Nasty in the Woodshed

Article excerpt

FATHER AND SON by Larry Brown

Anchor, 6.99, pp. 381

If Cormac McCarthy had ever scripted an episode of The Waltons, and David Lynch directed it, the end product would, one suspects, have come out something rather like Father and Son. OK, so the Waltons lived in 1920s Virginia, whereas Larry Brown's novel is set in Mississippi in the late 1960s. There is, nonetheless, an abiding air of subverted wholesomeness about Brown's work, as though everything that was good in the world of John Boy, Jim Bob, Sue Ellen et al - the cosy home life, the loving family, the friendly neighbours, the picture-postcard surroundings - has been brutally turned on its head. Brown gives us the downside of the idyll, the nightmare counterpoint to the American dream: a booze-sozzled society underpinned by festering hatreds and familial dysfunction. It is, if you like, a journey to the dark side of Waltons Mountain.

Released from jail after serving a threeyear stretch for killing a child whilst drunkdriving, Glen Davis returns to the small Mississippi community where he grew up. A cruel, embittered man, tormented by perceived injustices and fired by alcohol, he spends the next five days wreaking havoc on the world that has spawned him. He kills, he rapes, he terrorises, he abuses, shattering the fragile serenity of his home town and unleashing all manner of suppressed passions and lingering resentments. This is a white trash society where nothing is as it seems. On the surface it's all fried chicken, blueberry pie and regular Sunday churchgoing. Just as the lush green countryside conceals the rusting hulks of abandoned cars and fly-blown heaps of discarded refuse, however, so this cheery, all-American veneer papers over a less sanguine picture of broken relationships and domestic violence. Glen himself is the product of a brutal, corrosive home life, as much a victim, in his own way, as those he abuses. …

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