Two brothers return home to rural Arkansas to face their ordained destiny.
Middleton (An Dantomine Eerly, 2010) edits an imprint of Counterpoint Press and is clearly no stranger to the attractions of horror-tinged fiction. In his new novel, he spins an eerie Southern gothic about a down-on-his-luck country singer who comes home for his twin brother’s wedding. The book opens on Jordan Bayne, an ex-con and occasional country picker slumming in San Antonio. Jordan is a hot mess who has never been able to escape the shadow of his brother, Malcolm, a successful insurance agent, or his father, Walker, a legendary bluegrass artist. He is, quite simply, haunted: “From a place deeper than bone, Malcolm," he tells his brother. "A force pulling me into the dark. I tried to make it stop, but it didn’t come from one place; it came from all over, every inch of my body. I couldn’t run from it, neither. Wherever I went, there it was. Drinking ain’t a fraction bad as what’s calling out for me, brother.” This fractious reunion is set in the Ozark Mountains, and Middleton deftly captures the simmering violence and country noir that lie just beneath the surface of this rural veneer. There are strong female characters here in the person of Malcolm’s fiancee, Elizabeth Truitt, and Jordan’s old flame, Leah Fayette, but it’s a story rooted in male-on-male violence and its repercussions. As Jordan digs into his family history, he discovers that one of every set of twins in his family has always murdered their father. The book also offers up superbly creepy boogeymen in Andridge Grieves, a creature of local legend, and his minion, Obediah Cob. Along the way, Middleton deftly mixes history into his tale, unraveling the untimely ends of Jordan and Malcolm’s ancestors. It’s a well-carved story of a family’s curse, as brittle and grotesque as any works in the vein of Faulkner or O’Connor.
A subversive twist on Southern myths that’s surprisingly rich in its execution.