COUNTRY HARDBALL by Steve Weddle

Book Quote:

“I was locked up for a while. Full of the empty darkness, if that makes sense to you. The sort of nothing that fills up everything. Spent the whole time running down the “what if” crap to fill up my soul. What if I hadn’t dropped then? What if they’d buckled up? What if this and that? You can go crazy with that. And maybe I did. And maybe when I got out and was all of a sudden an adult and alone, yeah, maybe I did some things I shouldn’t have. And maybe those were my fault. But that’s the old me. That’s not who I am now.”

Book Review:

Review by Chuck Barksdale  (DEC 21, 2013)

First, let me say that this book has excellent writing and stories and provides a true sense of life in the rural area of Columbus County, Arkansas. I’ve decided to give this a top rating despite having some misgivings about that rating because of my occasional confusion while reading the book. However, after thinking about it especially after waiting a week or so to write this review, I’m convinced that the writing is just too good to not warrant the top rating.

The book starts out almost immediately giving the gloomy darkness that will permeate throughout the novel’s stories. The book starts with Champion Tatum and his son still trying to get over the death of Champion’s wife:

Eleanor Tatum had come home from the mill late that Saturday night last June, skipped church the next morning, and walked into the front yard to put a bullet through her temple.
“Never seen a woman do that,” Champion had overheard one of the deputies saying.
“Must have been pretty messed up, do something like that,” a tall man Champion hadn’t seen before said. “Women usually take pills. You know when they cash in.”
“Damned shame,” another deputy said, shaking his head, scratching into this notepad.
They all shook their heads and agreed it was a damned shame.

In the second section of the book, the main character , Roy Allison is introduced and it is in these sections that the book is told in the first person. As you learn, Roy is returning from spending time in juvenile detention and although he now has a job with the county he is not always welcomed when trying to do his job.

“Mr. Greer, my name’s Roy Allsion.” I pulled some papers out of my back pocket.
“I know who you are, shitface.” He raised the barrels of the shotgun to my face. “Everybody knows who you are. You’re the piece of shit who killed his parents.”
That stopped me. I guess I’ll never get used to that. Never get away from it. Which is fine. I did kill my parents.

Roy’s life became difficult after accidentally killing his parents at 16-years-old in a car accident while taking them to the hospital. He’s hoping to improve now upon his return to the area but that’s not being easy.

One of the themes that Roy and others in the book have is around life choices as in this excerpt:

You get far enough down one trail, doesn’t matter much which way you go from there – they’re all the wrong choices. Some days you just do what you learned to do, what you’ve lived your life doing. A body tumbling down a hill, into a ravine.

Roy doesn’t always make the right choices and he continues to struggle with his life as do others in the other stories of county residents. The reader can make his or her own decision about whether the choices are the right ones or if Roy and others really had a choice.

I’m a big baseball fan (in addition to being a crime fiction fan) and this book certainly has a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) baseball theme that is often present through the various stories. Characters will be watching or listening to baseball and some of the characters will know or even play baseball (look for it). You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate how this is being presented but as a baseball fan you will really enjoy the baseball presence and will as a result get more out of this great book.

In the published description of this book it is described as a “A novel-in-stories in the tradition of Bonnie Jo Campbell, Donald Ray Pollock, Denis Johnson, and Alan Heathcock.” Well, unfortunately, I haven’t read any of those authors, but the book is definitely told in a series of interlocking stories. It was an approach that I enjoyed but at times found a bit confusing. Although reading and keeping notes on an electronic reader has its advantages, in this case, I would have liked being able to flip back and forth through the pages of a real book. For me though, I immediately felt I was reading a style similar to Daniel Woodrell. Again, that’s probably my ignorance in not reading more in today’s “country noir” style then in the more traditional noir style of authors such as David Goodis and Scott Phillips.

This book is the first novel published by Steve Weddle. Steve has had a few of his stories published, but I’ve known him more as a publisher and editor of the Needle books of mostly noir short stories. I actually met Steve in 2010 at Noircon in Philadelphia and after that bought a couple of the Needle books, but I’ve not talked to him since and certainly our brief meeting had no influence on anything I’ve written here. Although I’ve enjoyed the Needle books, here’s hoping Steve spends more time writing novels and hopefully I’ll get to meet him again at Noircon in 2014.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 24 readers
PUBLISHER: Tyrus Books (November 18, 2013)
REVIEWER: Chuck Barksdale
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Steve Weddle
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More “country noir:”

Bibliography:

 


December 21, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Noir, US South

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