FAY by Larry Brown


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The search for love and family has seldom been portrayed with such harsh realism as in this almost literally stunning fourth

novel by the highly acclaimed Mississippi author.

Brown’s first substantial female protagonist, Fay Jones, is a 17-year-old virginal beauty who runs away from her mean and

drunken father and impoverished family (migrant workers camped near Oxford, Mississippi) in a vividly detailed opening

sequence that recalls the beginning of Faulkner’s classic Light in August. Fay is a complete innocent, can scarcely read, has never

seen a movie or used a pay phone. State trooper Sam Harris finds her hitchhiking and brings her home, where his wife Amy (still

grieving over the accidental death of their teenaged daughter) essentially adopts her. But a chain of bizarre coincidences ends this

idyllic "family" relationship, and Fay is soon on the road again, now pregnant, and easy prey (as she moves south, to Biloxi) for

a hard-bitten waitress who pushes her toward ’stripping," then for easygoing Aaron Forrest, who turns out to be an unstable drug

dealer. The story builds terrific momentum as things continue to go hopelessly wrong for Fay. She leaves Aaron, attempting to

return to Sam, and the three converge in a skillfully deployed and violent finale that confirms Brown’s close kinship both with

crime novelist Jim Thompson and with that underrated master of literate southern melodrama, Erskine Caldwell. The novel is

probably too long, and it goes egregiously over the top at least once (in depicting an airplane pilot’s fate). But it’s filled with

spare, precise, musical, observantly detailed prose and hair-raising extended scenes (an account of the effort to rescue a gas-truck

driver from a flaming wreck is a piece of action writing few contemporary authors could match).

Fay herself is an intensely real character, and Brown (Father and Son, 1996, etc.) tells her lurid, sorrowful story

magnificently. Close to a masterpiece.

Pub Date: March 31st, 2000
ISBN: 1-56512-168-6
Page count: 504pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2000


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