I didn’t like this book at all, but I finished it. It had the odd combination of being kind of meaningless, boring, offensive, and charmless, while also being filled to the brim with reviews and authors comments suggesting just how important this work is. It felt like the novelization of the book Hillbilly Elegy, or maybe it’s just the book he copied to write his scam book. This book also felt like a scam.
I have read a lot of Southern literature, and while this book takes place in Maine, it’s blue-collar sensibilities is clearly connected to a lot of the same kinds you find in much Southern literature beginning about the mid-1980s when this book came out. So there’s a tradition here. That tradition, in my mind, includes the grotesqueries of Flanney O’Connor and William Faulkner, the more sympathetic sensibilities of Larry Brown, Tim Gautreaux, Bobbie Ann Mason, Kaye Gibbons. And the more stark realism of writers like Harry Crews and Mary McGarry Morris.
I list all these authors as writers who understood so much more about their positioning and craft to figure out the right kinds of balance between absurdity (say in Eudora Welty or O’Connor) and irony and in realism.
This book has none of that. On the one hand we are told repeatedly that this author “knows” poverty, but she seems to hate these characters, who are so cartoonishly awful and treated with contempt that this rings hollow. And we can’t even enjoy that because she’s not deriding them. It feels calculated and bad.