A fatal hunting accident and its coverup prompt this tale of violence and revenge in the mountains of western North Carolina.
When Darl Moody, who’s poaching out-of-season deer, accidentally kills Carol “Sissy” Brewer, who’s poaching someone else’s ginseng, he knows he’s got a problem: namely Sissy’s brother, Dwayne Brewer, who steals chainsaws for a living, pulls guns on bullies in Walmart bathrooms, and spends his spare time “fieldstripping and reassembling his Colt 1911 as fast as he [can] with his eyes closed.” Darl knows Dwayne isn’t the kind of guy who'd say, “Hey man, I know you killed my brother and all, but...no hard feelings,” so he decides to bury Sissy, and he gets his friend Calvin Hooper to help. Unfortunately, they leave a breadcrumb trail, and Dwayne, whose love for Sissy was “the deepest…he’d ever known," follows it, bent on revenge. Joy’s (The Weight of This World, 2017, etc.) third novel is a fast-paced, tightly plotted thriller that falls short of its literary pretensions—in fact, it's more pretension than anything else. Dwayne, misunderstood “trash” who loves his brother and can quote the Bible, has been explicitly compared to the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Anton Chigurh of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Judge Holden of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and Lester Ballard of McCarthy’s Child of God. But where these prophetic villains are classically inscrutable, Dwayne—like the rest of Joy’s novel—is the opposite. There is no human mystery. Every action, thought, and motivation is explained. To be fair, there are some competent fight scenes. And Sissy’s decomposing body is nicely visceral. And in between the melodrama and cliché, Joy does manage a few inspired local details: “as each addition rotted away, a new one was hammered together…so that slowly, through decades, the five-room shanty shifted around the property.” But for the most part this book is a sculpture of lazy sentences (“The place where he could take no more had come and gone in the blink of an eye and now here he sat little more than a husk of what he was a week before”) and prepackaged profundity (“mothers should not bury their children”).
Pretentious, overtold, and transparent—Joy mistakes literary allusion for literary merit.