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.