Set in rural 1960s Mississippi, Father and Son spans a week in a small town after one of their own, Glen Davis, returns from three years in the state penitentiary for running over and killing a young boy while driving drunk. Glen is angry, furious, and the reader senses immediately that this is not a man who has learned his lesson. He’s hard-edged, cold and disconnected, and there is no redeeming quality in him.
Glen returns to an elderly father intent on drinking himself to death, a former lover, Jewel, for whom he has very little feelings, a bastard four year old son for whom he has even less, his sainted dead mother’s unmarked grave, a hero-worshipping, no account little brother, and Bobby, the sheriff of the town. Glen’s hatred of Bobby is more than the natural hatred a criminal has for a lawman, and Brown lets it slip, in a very unobtrusive way, that Bobby’s mother and Glen’s father once had an affair, and Bobby is the product of that union.
The town is as much a character as the humans, with its run down houses, tiny general store, steamy afternoons, even sun bleached cotton fields. Everyone chain smokes, drinks whiskey, drives with no seat belts, and has a six pack of Old Milwaukee on the bench seat. Young boys are going off to war with stars in their eyes, and it’s nearly certain that they’ll be returning with those stars burned out, if they return at all. It’s a town that is slowly dying, with men eking out a living on dry and dusty farms and women donning polyester waitress uniforms and trying desperately to make ends meet.
Within hours of his return, Glen has assaulted, killed, raped, and robbed, and Brown deftly weaves his actions in with other, more mundane stories of the town and its inhabitants. Sheriff Bobby follows Glen’s trail, sorting through the chaos left in his wake, the white knight to Glen’s raping and pillaging. Glen rails against his place in this world, even as he clings to it with all his might, so consumed with rage that he is doomed to self destruct. Bobby could have easily been painted as an aw shucks, Andy Griffith kind of sheriff, but he, too, is human and flawed, and quietly, desperately, wants to do the right thing.
Father and Son was a tough read for me. Glen was such a dark character – and the town was so depressing – that I found myself having to step away from the book for a couple of days, needing something light and funny to offset the clouds that had suddenly appeared when reading this. I’m glad I returned though, and I’ll be looking for more from Brown in the future.