I’ll admit, I’ve had a tenuous relationship with Book of the Month. When I joined, I binged loads of books, most of which were mediocre thrillers. When my budget and my bookshelf both convinced me that it was time for a book-buying-ban, I listened.
But then, BOTM launched their August selections, and my attention was piqued. Among the choices was David Joy’s The Line That Held Us. Billed as “Appalachian noir”, Joy’s dark story follows a group of men living in a mountain town, and the vengeance that links them. I had a feeling it would satisfy my craving for something dark, gritty, and bold, and it did just that.
Summary: When Darl Moody accidentally shoots Dwayne Brewer’s brother while on an illicit hunting trip, he sparks a cycle of revenge that no one can stop. Dwayne Brewer is already notorious for his violence, and when Darl turns to his friend Calvin for help, Dwayne follows the blood trail to their doorsteps. The men, all driven by family, passion, and rage, descend into a hellish stand-off in the name of love and vengeance.
- David Joy has really mastered the Southern Gothic tone. The book is gritty and gorey, but, above all, it’s really atmospheric. You can practically feel the isolated mountain landscape settle in around you. You can feel the dirt under your toes, hear the buzz of insects around your ears, taste the dusty air on your lips, and smell the smoke wafting from burning fires around town. With this book, I was also introduced to some amazing descriptors of the genre: “grit-lit” might be one of my go-to’s from here on out.
- The book faces a lot of ugliness. It’s really violent, and it doesn’t shy away from being graphic and creative in its narration. With that said, it’s also surprisingly respectful and inoffensive.
- Dwayne’s brother was bullied, supposedly for being gay. Joy’s novel takes place in the most rural of rural America. He has every excuse to craft ignorant, conservative characters, especially with an anger-driven character like Dwayne. Instead, he takes moments to show Dwayne defending his brother’s honor. He makes it a point that Dwayne accepted his brother for who he was. That was an absolutely pleasant surprise.
- One of the only female characters in the book is Calvin’s girlfriend, Angie. They describe her as being beautiful and sexy and womanly. But she’s also a college student, pursuing nursing, in a town where no one else in the story really mentions school at all. Angie is smart, hard-working, and ambitious. Again, in a Southern Gothic novel full of angry men, this was such a great surprise.
- Dwayne is an amazing villain. He is really violent, if I haven’t mentioned that already, but he also has some qualities that are really easy to root for. He is so loving toward his brother; all of his violence is really just driven by a sense of love, guardianship, and heartache. He also is really focused on his justice system. His eye-for-an-eye way of punishment might not be the example we all want to follow, but, honestly, he kind of has a point. Several times, Darl or Calvin remark that you can’t trust what a man like Dwayne will do, but I saw exactly the opposite. Dwayne isn’t coy with his threats, and he doesn’t seem like a liar. He is going to do exactly what he promised he’d do, with whatever means necessary.
- While Dwayne felt impressively fleshed-out and complex, many of the other characters didn’t stand out so strongly. Darl and Calvin seemed mildly interchangeable. Fortunately, there aren’t a ton of secondary characters to worry about. The book happily keeps its cast pretty simple, but Dwayne was the only character I felt any particular pull towards.
For Those Who Like:
- No Country for Old Men
- Cormac McCarthy
- The Walking Dead
- Gods of Howl Mountain – Taylor Brown