The father’s a killer, the mother’s an addict, and the son’s just plain trapped in this blunt-force account of an Appalachian family.
Charlie McNeely controls the lucrative crystal meth business in his neck of the woods; his estranged wife, Laura, is one of his customers. The work involves killing; real men kill, and the rest are pussies, according to Charlie. Having cops on his payroll provides protection. With bad McNeely blood in his veins, the self-loathing 18-year-old Jacob sees himself as trash. Two years earlier, he broke up with his childhood sweetheart, Maggie, not wanting to drag her into the abyss. Now Jacob is facing a manhood test Daddy has set up. (As narrator, he calls his parents Daddy and Mama.) Robbie Douglas, an employee, has snitched and must be disposed of. In the deep-woods shack, he finds the Cabe brothers, also employees, have Robbie tied up and bleeding. The brothers splash him with sulfuric acid and leave him for dead on the mountainside. It was a sloppy job. Robbie is found, unconscious but alive. Now it’s the Cabes’ turn. Big Daddy beats them bloody, shoots them and has Jacob help him dump them in the lake. Jacob is now accessory to two, maybe three murders, and his situation becomes even more dire when he discovers his blood-soaked Mama, who has shot herself at his Daddy’s urging. Still, there’s a glimmer of hope when Maggie, who is a Good Woman, returns to him, saying “You’re the strongest man I know.” Might Jacob overcome his fatalism? Joy struggles with that, just as he struggles to give complexity to that dead-eyed evildoer of a father, but he ultimately finds it simplest to obey his first commandment: Shed blood.
A dark semiautobiographical first novel in which action flourishes at the expense of character development.