Judge this book by its cover and you might expect to be in for
one of those rare reads which stay with you to the grave. But
unless the commuter train you happen to be reading it on is involved
in an unfortunate accident, this is unlikely to be the case.
Not because Father and Son is a poor book – in many ways it
is quite the reverse – but because the publishers have done it
a disservice with an over-hyped jacket blurb and more than the
usual number of carefully spliced together cover quotes. Before
reaching the opening paragraph, Larry Brown, an author new to
me, is elevated to the lofty status of Dostoevsky and William
Faulkner. Although this gives a fairly accurate hint of the literary
flavours to expect, it also sets the book up for a fall if the
end result is anything other than exceptional. That it is merely
good inevitably, and undeservedly, comes as something of a disappointment.
Which is a shame because Father and Son does have a timeless quality
about it and Brown eloquently evokes all the old themes of literature
in a smouldering tale of passion, hatred, vengeance and redemption.
The small town setting of a Mississippi backwater is not unfamiliar territory:
a blue-collar place where not much ever happens, where folk drink beer, go huntin’
and fishin’, mind each other’s business, and pay habitual visits
to church on Sundays. But behind the balmy days and monster catfish,
Brown portrays a decaying landscape of derelict cars, broken
beer bottles, dried-up wells, and damaged people.
The tale opens as storm clouds gather with the arrival of Glen
Davis, a man with trouble in mind and old scores to settle. Freshly
released from jail after serving 3 years for manslaughter, he
returns home a bitter man with old wrongs, both real and imagined,
to right. Hitting town like an angry whirlwind, he leaves a trail
of destruction in his wake, murdering an old adversary and an
innocent bystander within 24 hours of release. And that’s just
Set against the volatile Glen is the mild mannered town sheriff,
Bobby, who has reasons of his own for harbouring a grudge against
Glen. He is in love with Glen’s sweetheart who has stood faithfully
by her wayward man during his stay in jail. To complicate matters
further, Glen’s alcoholic father holds a flame for the sheriff’s
mother, who Glen blames for his own mother’s suicide while he
was away in prison. But there are much deeper, unacknowledged
reasons for the enmity between the two men.
Father and Son is firmly in the tradition of a classic Western,
complete with a villain who initially is not entirely beyond redemption,
an upstanding town sheriff, a homely girl they are competing
for, and a gnarled and grizzled old timer worn down by the burden
of his past. If there is a flaw it’s that Larry Brown plays the
classical themes so straight that it is difficult to shake the feeling that
you have read it all somewhere before.
Reviewed by Jon Mitchell