Need a change from current affairs? Tired of plodding through Tolstoy and Joyce once again? Yo needs yosef sum Redneck Grit.
Late last fall I started compiling a list and began reading what’s known as Hick Lit, AKA Rural Noir, Country Noir, Redneck Noir, Redneck Grit, or Hillbilly Noir. One of my favorites so far is The Auctioneer, written in 1975 by Joan Samson, and mostly since forgotten. A combination of Literary and Pulp fiction at its finest. Unfortunately, Samson died shortly after penning this masterpiece. It’s a slow burn of how small town culture and human nature can sneak up and turn lethal.
“The Auctioneer” Joan Samson
When they were married, the price of milk was holding and nothing seemed difficult. Even when the milk stopped paying, they would have accepted children as part of the course of things, had they come along. But, by the time Hildie was born, their plans had faded to an almost forgotten ache, not from longing for a child so much as from a sense that they had been passed over by the rhythms of the earth, like the apple tree that blossomed so prettily but could not be coaxed to bear.
A ripple of attention passed through the crowd. On the porch of the old Fawkes place stood the auctioneer. He was as tall as Gore, but trim and upright. Despite his red plaid shirt open at the neck, there was something sharply formal about his stance which set him apart from the country Saturday slackness of the people waiting for him. His features were fine and tense and his skin was burned almost as brown as his hair. He stood looking out over the crowd, his hands in his pockets.
“Perly stood as if frozen in place, watching the turmoil beneath him spread. “Just remember this,” he said in a deep voice that cut neatly through the confusion. “Whatever I’ve done, you’ve let me do.”
And here are two more of my faves from 2020.
“The Heavenly Table” Donald Ray Pollock
The author, Charles Foster Winthrop III, a failed poet from Brooklyn who had once dreamed of becoming the next Robert Browning, had centered the plot of the novel around one Colonel William Buchet’s insatiable need to avenge himself against the Northerners who had pillaged his plantation during the Civil War and left him without even a single cotton ball to wipe his ass on; and Winthrop had filled the book with every act of rape, robbery, and murder that his indignant, syphilitic brain could possibly conceive. For this, his twentieth such potboiler in less than three years, he was paid the niggardly sum of thirty dollars. By the time he settled with his creditors, and spent an hour passing diseases back and forth with the foul and wrinkled whore who lived across the hall in his building, Winthrop didn’t have enough money left over to buy a loaf of bread. “Well,” he said that night to the vermin living behind the cracked plaster in his dank room, “I gave it my best, and that’s all a man can do.” He waited until morning, and then, with the same cool steadiness he had conferred upon Bloody Bill, his final creation, the hack brushed the rat turds off his one good suit and chugged down enough turpentine to peel the paint off a two-story house. By the time the Jewetts discovered the book in a cast-off carpetbag near Oxford, Mississippi, poor Winthrop had been moldering in a soggy, unmarked grave on an island in the East River for nearly seventeen years, another forgotten casualty of the callous and fickle literary world he had once hoped to conquer.
Though nearly forty years had passed since that day, the culvert was still there, still overgrown. Thinking now of that rabbit, all alone on that cold winter night with the snow starting to cover the ground, a sweet and sorrowful feeling overcame him. Of course, he knew that that creature had died long ago, just as his father did a few winters later. But with a swelling in his throat, he wondered, almost desperately if felt like, if he might find some sign of that rabbit were he to go down there and search among the weeds and brambles. His eyes began to water. So many had passed on in his lifetime, and so much had happened or not happened that had taken him further and further away from the boy he was back then. No, he thought, as he wiped his sleeve across his face, he wouldn’t find anything, not a sliver of bone or a shred of fur, not if he hunted for a week. The rabbit was gone forever, and that saddened him in much the same way the stars sometimes did at night, the way they kept shifting in the same abiding patterns, as regular as clockwork, year after year, century after century, regardless of what went on down here on this godforsaken ball of rock and clay, be it young men getting butchered in another war, or some crazy blind man living with a dead bird, or an innocent babe drowning in a rat-infested outhouse, or even some poor shivering rabbit sticking his head out of the weeds to watch a farm boy making his way home with his father.
“What was ye doin’ in Ohio?” the bearded man asked.
“Working,” Sugar said.
“Thieving’s more like it, Captain,” said a flattish boy named Bill Dolly. He had the soft, hairless skin and flushed, jiggling jowls of a child. The biggest disappointment of his life so far had been, in fact, his life so far; and like so many other white do-nothings, luckless simpletons, and paranoid crackpots, he was convinced that somehow the black race was the root cause of all his miserable failures. “I ain’t never seen one that didn’t like to steal.”
“Freezer Burn” Joe R. Lansdale
Lansdale is the author of the infamous Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novels which were made into a TV series that ran from 2016-2018. Starring James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams, it's a darkly comic swamp noir of two best friends, one femme fatale, a crew of washed up revolutionaries, a pair of murderous psycho killers, some lost loot, and the fuzz. Pretty terrific stuff.
Freezer Burn, though, stands alone as one of the best psychobilly noir, rotting corpse, corn dog eating, freak show and fireworks stand greasy novels to come down the pike. If you haven’t had enough the of the American nightmare in real life, read this bad puppy.
Perhaps, he thought, I am an alien abductee, and a moment from now they’ll have me on a cold table with salad tongs spreading my butt cheeks and a cold wet alien finger up my ass. You hear about alien abductions, the asshole is always a prime target. And they like to jack people off for sperm. He thought he could handle that part better than the finger up the ass. It might even be kind of restful.
With that note of cheer, I thought I’d share a photograph in each of my posts from my film photography work from the 1980s. I had a darkroom in my house in Lawrence, Kansas all through the 80s so many a night was spent in that little room developing film and making prints.
Somewhere in Kansas, Spring, 1984
And then some Baudrillard Monkee…