A quiet novel that explores a midcentury community in rural Louisiana.
In Franklin’s debut, the residents of a Catahoula Parish farm brew moonshine, go to church, and spend time in the woods and rivers that surround them. The Britton family—parents John and Maggie, children Snooks, Lil’Ray, Laverne, Jessy Mae, Macey Rae, and Gussie—are a devoutly religious farming clan who are generally good people; neighbor Gator Gattlin and his moonshining colleagues are more villainous. The book is less a unified narrative than it is a series of stories about the various characters as they go about their hard work, lawbreaking, churchgoing, and hunting expeditions. However, this allows Franklin to provide clear snapshots of rural Southern life in the second half of the 20th century. The author renders the local dialect phonetically (“What bidness is it of yourn iffen’ I don’t?”), and has a talent for describing the swamps and fields that his characters spend their time in. There are also some evocative turns of phrase that will draw readers into the well-developed setting: “Like a child writing their name on a frosty windowpane, their sweat created tracks in the dust as it meandered down their backs.” However, much of the writing has an unpolished feel; minor errors are common, including misplaced punctuation and misused homophones in narration, such as “a hansom woman” and “the assent upward.” Most of the characters are white, but several characters of color appear throughout, including African American Britton farmhand George Washington “Milk” Brown and moonshiner Monk Brown. Although racial tensions don’t play a significant role in the story, the many references to “colored” laborers and domestic workers in the narration are jarring. There are discrete subplots within the book, as when Snooks and Lil’Ray set a trap for a corn thief, but little connects them, making the book more of a rumination on the past than a plot-driven novel.
Vivid but scattered tales of rural Southern life that might have benefited from a stronger edit.