COUNTRY DARK by Chris Offutt
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The title hints at the tone, for this is indeed a Southern gothic story, set in Kentucky and focused on a man who would do anything to keep his family together.

Offutt's (My Father, the Pornographer, 2015, etc.) first fiction in almost two decades opens in 1954, when Tucker is coming back from the Korean War with 11 medals—and he’s not even 18. On the way home through rural Kentucky he stops a man from raping Rhonda, a 14-year-old girl, and he finds the potential rapist is not only the girl’s uncle, but also the deputy sheriff. Rhonda and her rescuer rather casually decide to marry, and Tucker makes a living making moonshine runs for Beanpole, an unfathomably corrupt, 350-pound colossus. The narrative then shifts to 1964, when Tucker and Rhonda have five children the state is threatening to remove from their home. It turns out that of the five, only Jo is “right,” the others having varying degrees of physical or emotional disability. But disabilities or not, Tucker and Rhonda love them all and don’t want the family separated. Blind with rage, Tucker hunts down and kills the social worker who was most adamant about taking his children. Using his connections, Beanpole gets Tucker a reduced sentence, but prison ultimately becomes a place where “Tucker retreated further into himself while increasing his vigilance” against fellow prisoners out to get him. The final part of the novel takes place when Tucker is released in 1971. He feels Beanpole cheated him when he was incarcerated, and now he’s looking for revenge. Offutt has a fine ear for Kentucky-speak and is able to make small shifts in vocabulary that capture the rhythms of rural conversation (“Hidy....Come on up and set a spell”). And Tucker is a knotty and complex character—warm and loving toward his family but cold and threatening toward almost everyone else.

A compelling and brooding read.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2779-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018


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