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A Novel Based on a True Story

by Matt Bondurant

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4165-6139-2
Publisher: Scribner

Hard-living bootleggers and crooked lawmen wrestle for control of the moonshine business in a fictional re-creation of the hard past of a lawless county.

Drawing on his real life relatives and actual events, Bondurant (The Third Translation, 2005, etc.) sends past-his-prime author Sherwood Anderson into the hollows of western Virginia in the mid-1930s. Reduced to working for newspapers, the author of Winesburg, Ohio is there to report on the saga of the Bondurant brothers and their bloody defiance of corrupt attorney Charles Carter Lee. Anderson hopes to reclaim his place in the literary world with an accurate portrayal of these tough men. But no one will talk to an outsider about the bootlegging business or the series of shootings and knifings that continued to characterize Franklin County through the end of Prohibition and led ultimately to the longest criminal trial in the history of the Commonwealth. The Bondurants, like all the distillers in their mountain county, work in secrecy, carrying out their trade alongside legitimate businesses, eking out incomes shrunk to near nothing by the Great Depression. Sons of a law-abiding tradesman, the brothers were set on their shady paths by the sweeping forces of World War I and the epidemic of influenza that killed their mother and all but one of their sisters. Army veteran Howard, brainy Forrest and their admiring youngest brother, Jack Bondurant, took up the dangerous business of white lightning as reasonably—or unreasonably—as today’s ghetto youths take up drug dealing. What put them in mortal danger in an already dangerous business was not the roaming federal investigators but their refusal to join the cartel run by the county’s top legal figure. That they survived not only the warfare but massive doses of their own potent liquor is a testament to a kind of toughness that may no longer exist.

Gritty, gripping depiction of very wild lives.