Country Noir: Frank Bill and the New Violent Midwestern Fiction

By Fehrman, Craig | The American Prospect, March-April 2013 | Go to article overview

Country Noir: Frank Bill and the New Violent Midwestern Fiction


Fehrman, Craig, The American Prospect


CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA

BY FRANK BILL

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

DONNY BROOK

BY FRANK BILL

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME

BY DONALD RAY POLLOCK

Doubleday

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One spring morning two years ago, a woman left her house--a small white one, its porch overrun by toys and exercise equipment--and dropped off her kids at the Sunman Elementary School. Sunman is a tiny town that spreads across the flat farmland of Southern Indiana. State Road 101 is the main drag, and the woman drove down it, past the IGA with its twin gas pumps, past the Family Dollar, past a bar named Louie's, until she reached home.

Stanley Short, her estranged husband, was waiting inside. When she entered, Short hit her on the head with a hammer, then bound her to a bed with zip ties and duct tape. He cut her shirt off with a carpet knife and raped her.

After several hours the woman came up with an excuse for why they needed to leave. If she didn't pay the electricity bill, the utility would shut off her power. With Short in the passenger seat, she headed back out on 101 until she spotted a group of men talking outside the Sunman Auction House. The woman swerved into the parking lot and then ran from the car screaming. Short dashed away too, into the nearby woods, but the state police tracked him down. A jury convicted Short of rape, battery, and criminal confinement, among other charges, and he is now serving a 60-year prison sentence.

If you live outside the listening range of WRBI, Sunman's local country station, you've probably never heard of Short. I grew up in Indiana, two towns over from Sunman; even then I only learned about the case after a friend filed several terrifying updates on Facebook. Still, the episode came back to me while I was reading Frank Bill's 2011 debut story collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana. Stanley Short--tattooed, goateed, cruel--would have fit right in with Bill's desperate characters.

There's a long tradition of shotguns-and-spare-prose fiction depicting America's working class, and right now the Midwest is having a literary moment. Dennis Lehane, who anchors his crime novels in Boston, once told an interviewer that "in Greek tragedy they fall from great heights. In noir they fall from the curb." In books by a small but growing number of authors--besides Bill, Donald Ray Pollock (Ohio), Bonnie Jo Campbell (Michigan), Alan Heathcock (Illinois)--there are no curbs. The roads are gravel and dirt, but the people still find a way to fall.

This makes for more than just good noir. Sometimes the rural Midwest, and rural America more generally, can seem to drown in don't-bother-locking-the-doors nostalgia. The frustrations of groups like the Tea Party suggest that, in many ways, this near mythology remains as powerful inside the region as out. Against this ideal, consider Bill's new novel, Donnybrook, whose title refers to a three-day bare-knuckle fighting tournament held every August on former farmland. Fans come to watch, gamble, inhale, imbibe--"like a Dead concert with fists," a mostly toothless meth head calls it. It's not so easy to be nostalgic about that.

FRANK BILL WRITES about a particular slice of the Midwest: not the midsize cities, the university towns, or even the places you can glimpse from the interstate but the isolated communities, where the water tower and feed mill remain the two tallest structures.

Some of the region's stronger communal traits still hold. I grew up in the same sprawling gray farmhouse my grandfather was born in, for instance--his mother gave birth to him in the front room, where we kept my sister's piano--and while that kind of rootedness has become rarer in other parts of the country, it's still pretty standard in Southern Indiana. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Country Noir: Frank Bill and the New Violent Midwestern Fiction
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.