Review: Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank Bill
The complexity of Tom Franklin, the mesmerizing exposition of Donald Ray Pollock, the gutwrenching poignancy of Ron Rash’s One Foot in Eden, all in one story: The Old Mechanic, included in Crimes in Southern Indiana, by Frank Bill.
Many reviewers have written about how powerfully Frank Bill charges through the gate. The first story sets a pace that will damn near exhaust you. And just as I was beginning to wonder if Frank Bill had enough dexterity and depth to slow it down and make me think hard, I turned the page to the short story, The Old Mechanic.
The story begins heavy on exposition—but not like we’re used to, not the boring, author-filling-in-backstory for the sake of expanding word count, or listing facts that tell you what the unfolding story must become. The Old Mechanic takes about three or four lines and then viola! Frank Bill has hypnotized you. He uses exposition to create a scene, a feeling, an emotional trauma so wounding you check yourself for blood. The details make you remember your own details. The pain vibrates and harmonizes with yours. I haven’t seen anyone but Pollock create such an overwhelming sense of setting that the story could almost end without any action taking place, and it would still be a challenging, effective read.
After the exposition we learn that there’s a solid possibility the story is real. The child protagonist is named Frank, and the more details Frank Bill relates about the child’s fears, the more I thought of my own grandfather, recalled similar realizations, nuggets of grandfatherly wisdom that totally exposed him as a naked piece of shit.
The tension builds, but you’re not expecting a surprise, not feeling the protagonist is in present danger. No, you brace yourself for the reality of it. You trust that the events caused real wounds, and from the nature of the harms so far revealed, you tighten your stomach for the ones yet to come.
And then when the horror arrives, it is not what you foresaw. It is more chilling and haunting than you could have guessed, because the art of the story lies in misdirection, or rather, Frank Bill’s ability to run the gamut of the full range of human emotions and experience. He could have ended the story a thousand ways, and he chose the most devastating.
Crimes in Southern Indiana will knock you on your ass. The Old Mechanic does it a different way. It rounds out Frank Bill’s display of talent, demonstrating he isn’t just a 5.0 liter Mustang doing literary donuts in the parking lot. He’s also maybe an F-150, doing the hard work of opening minds, changing readers by showing paths into themselves that warrant exploration.
Bravo, Frank, for that one. Very nice work.
Every state's got a gang of men with guns and tattered U.S. Constitutions stowed next to their dog-eared John Birch pamphlets. Bitching about government makes men happy, and in recent times, country folk have been fucking euphoric. Rumor was the boys in my neck of the woods were getting rowdy and ready to switch gears from talking to walking. I don't mind ten men at a hunting camp chucking bottles and blasting away. Any fella dumb enough to get drunk around a crew with guns half deserves a bullet. But I got a tip. One of the wives overheard talk of linking the local group with some radical faction out of Denver and marching with guns to Washington to take the country back from the jigs and the Jews. A sheriff can't truck with that, but in a county of twenty thousand, everybody knows everybody, almost. At least the men who would be of age and frame of mind to join such a group knew everyone else who might be. I didn't have anyone to put inside.
From the back cover…
Set in small town Wyoming in the 70s and unfolding in a single day, Clayton Lindemuth's debut novel,Cold Quiet Country, explores small-town corruption and the lengths some people will go to exact revenge.
With a deft hand and sinister eye, Clayton Lindemuth reminds us that the green, idyllic landscape of Middle America can suddenly become an ominous backdrop for violence and treachery.
Suspenseful, intelligent, and bold, COLD QUIET COUNTRY brings a new edge to the world of modern noir and readers will no longer be able to look upon rolling hills, pastoral fields, and picturesque barns without a sense of foreboding.
I look at Liz. At some point she's going to decide what she wants to do. She's in the house where it all happened, the refuge that was the site of her terror, at the hands of the man whose politics maybe included her in the town's ostracism. She's a cagey creature, this girl who doesn't know how to be a girl. She glances at me and suddenly I'm in Burt Haudesert's kitchen, at the table. Jordan's at my elbow and Gwen is opposite, and she's got that same stare as Liz does now. She's looking straight at the center of the table. Her jaw is set but her brow is soft. There's concentration in her eyes, but no anger or consternation. Her heart's probably beating like a rabbit flushed from the briar, but outward she's spaced out and for the life of me I'll never understand how a man can do that to a girl.
And there's Sunday. Speak of the Devil. The man at the head of the family, defending it.
He's three steps away but ten times stronger and faster than me. But there are more guns on my side of the battlefront. And frankly I don't give a shit.
"Liz, are you going to kill him, or what?"