Silas Jones and Larry Ott are two sides of a coin in a small Mississippi town. They meet as children, where Larry is the town comic book reading, horror aficionado weirdo and Silas is the new kid – poor, black, and new to country life. They become friends for a time, bonding over proximity, loneliness, and a shared love of nature and horror. Over time, however, Silas moves on to sports and other friends. Fast forward to adulthood, where ‘Scary’ Larry is a pariah because the town believes he abducted and murdered a girl, and Silas is newly returned as a town constable. A girl disappears and it seems like the cycle is continuing.
I ripped through this book, which I picked up based on staff recommendations at Square Books in Oxford, MS. Tom Franklin is a really good writer, evoking the scene beautifully as a backdrop to the characters and action: “…in the woods, if you stopped, if you grew still, you’d hear a whole new set of sounds, wind rasping through silhouetted leaves and the cries and chatter of blue jays and brown thrashers and redbirds and sparrows, the calling of crows and hawks, squirrels barking, frogs burping, the far braying of dogs, armadillos snorkeling through dead leaves…”.
I think the scene setting was often the most successful part of the story – the mystery was definitely secondary to the scene and the characters. It was clear the author loved ‘Scary” Larry, and identified with his outsider status. Comic books, horror movies, lack of mechanical ability – all things that would confer oddness in a small town, or at least in this small town. That said, I was attached to Silas and felt that, unlike Larry, Silas grew as a character. He made mistakes starting with our first introduction to him as a child. His loneliness was rooted in growing up in poverty, racial animosity in the 1970s and veiled racism in the present day, struggling to support his mother emotionally without understanding her life or her constrained choices, learning to be a man with few positive examples in his life, and so on. Larry was like an insect embedded in amber, while Silas struggled and failed and struggled again.
I do recommend this book, despite the mystery shortcomings and the very rapid resolution. I think it is unusual to have a story about white and black men and boys set in a rural area, and so this was quite thought-provoking. I will certainly look for other books by the author.