FINAL HEAT by Philip Lee Williams


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A violent family saga set in redneck Mississippi--with steamy Tennessee Williams-like southerners who are convincing only when the author (Perfect Timing, p. 435; etc.) remembers to keep his tongue firmly in his cheek--and that's not often enough. At 24, Snake Ripley, from Rockton, is trapped in a land of pines and red moons because his brother, Leslie, is retarded (though Leslie's also a kind of religious idiot savant) and because his father, Harry, is ailing with a bad heart. Meanwhile, Snake runs the family garage and trysts with Truly Crawford, the 22-year-old daughter of Junior, the town's wealthiest man. Truly's spoiled to death, and her mother, Ada--who provides some comic relief when the soap-opera fur begins to fly--fancies herself an artist in the manner of van Gogh. In serviceable prose, Williams evokes a place where nearly everyone is repressing a great deal of violence--until at last it breaks loose: Snake and Truly decide to rob the mansion of an old woman, who confronts them with a gun and wounds Snake, whereupon he blows her away; Harry satisfies his own blood-lust by going to the house of a Dr. Owens and killing the doctor, his brother, and his wife; then Harry goes after Snake. (Yes, it's one of those books.) By now, the town's in an uproar, with Sheriff Reuben going to all ends to solve the murders. They solve themselves, however, when Snake and Harry try to eliminate each other, and everyone goes running into the swamps. Snake kills Harry--or maybe Harry has a fatal heart attack moments before the bullets hit him--and the cops blow Snake away while Truly pretends she's been kidnapped and walks off in Junior's arms, so to speak. This time out, Williams is not able to find the language that might turn such a tale into art. Too often, it's unintentionally laughable.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Turtle Bay/Random House