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Arkansas Paperback – June 3, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Brandon introduces his main characters gradually in his quirky debut about a bunch of rootless drifters who form an unstable drug-distribution network in Arkansas: Swin Ruiz, who pulls his first scam before dropping out of college; Kyle Ribb, a shoplifter who stumbles on a job as a courier; and mysterious Ken Hovan (aka Froggy or Frog), who begins with bootleg tapes but graduates to run the shadowy organization. Tangential characters include a middleman, Pat Bright, who oversees Swin and Ruiz in their nebulous and phony cover jobs in a state park, and a black woman known only as Her, who passes packets and instructions to the couriers. As Swin and Kyle try to puzzle out how to survive in a crumbling organization, their futile attempts to create some semblance of a normal life evoke only pathos. Not evil as such, these unsympathetic people simply fall into a rut that leads inevitably to violence and death. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“John Brandon’s remarkable first novel will blow away a certain readership. . . . Arkansas rants against the machine in a voice combining Raymond Chandler’s side-of-the-mouth noir with Quentin Tarantino’s gleeful-psychopath wit and Mark Twain’s episodic romance of the journey.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Brandon’s premier novel is a must for those who love the criminal and the stern yet dark optimism of the existential. His vision of Arkansas is unique, his wit is sharp, and the sympathy he has for his characters is genuine. For all the dark alleys Brandon explores, both physically and psychologically, Arkansas’s power rests in its redefining and restructuring of the criminal’s only hope: family.” —PopMatters

“Add novelist John Brandon to your list of hipster-sanctioned must-reads . . . Brandon’s writing is so sparse it sometimes feels blasé, but the tension between his hard-boiled prose and his characters’ appealing naiveté makes the novel work.” —The Portland Mercury
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Trade Paper Edition edition (June 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802144365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144362
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,120,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David W. Straight on February 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a rather quirky, often compelling tale of four men--Swin, Kyle, Bright, and Froggy, and Swin's girlfriend Johnna. Swin and Kyle work for Bright, who in turn works for Froggy, although at times the exact chain of command seems a bit fuzzy. The primary activity of the group is moving illegal drugs--Swin and Kyle are sent to Florida, to Louisiana, to Texas in old cars with a stash of drugs and return with, say $50K in cash to Arkansas. We're not talking TV glamour here, no high living, no hobnobbing in glitzy Miami bars. Froggy is careful, and runs his operation almost like a communist cell: Swin and Kyle never know just who Froggy is, and it may be that Bright doesn't know either. But it pays the bills, if you don't mind living in run-down house trailers.

It's gritty storytelling, somewhere between Larry Brown, Harry Crews, and William Gay. You won't see any exciting car chases, but there is death. $50K may not seem like a lot to a Kenneth Lay or a John Gotti, but here it can be a major temptation. As you read the book you get the feeling that there is not going to be a nice happy ending: this is not the kind of life that fairy tales are made of.

Brandon does not--as of yet--have the lyrical writing of a William Gay or a Cormac McCarthy, as in Gay's Provinces of Night or McCarthy's Child of God. He does not--as of yet--have the fine sense of pace as you'll see in Crews' brilliant Feast of Snakes. But he certainly has the grit right, and that puts him in the Crews/Brown school. So this is a very good debut.
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Format: Hardcover
Between 1974 and 1998 in the southern US, Kyle and Swin are drifters, who run drugs for others. The rest about the duo escapes symbolism and labels. They take jobs as rangers in a state park. On the surface, they direct visitors, maintain the park, and see to animals. Below the surface, the park is a cover for the operations of a drug kingpin and the malfeasance he plots. A look into the swamps in the park might uncover sunken bodies. When their aliases and duties as rangers foster friendship between them and give them self-respect from park visitors, they begin the shift from hoodlums to guys for whom the reader can feel interest and empathy. A nurse in a clinic, Johnna, joins them. They set up house, adopt an aura of stability, and carry out with eagerness the tasks of a ranger. The normality is broken by phone calls that tell them where to make the next run for the kingpin, a person without a name or a location. Johnna presents Swin with the possibility of fatherhood, a circumstance that might be construed as weakness in the armor that Swin like Kyle presents to others for self-defense. The climax arrives when Kyle commits a murder that Swin interprets as an extravagance instead of a necessity. When the action places Swin and Kyle in the bathhouse with thugs, the reader fears that the thugs will harm Swin, whereas the toughness in Kyle inspires fear in the thugs. The author Brandon knows how to balance horror with relief, terror and humor. He makes the down-to-earth spout philosophy and the brusque speak lines of poetry. If the reader thinks he/she can predict what characters will do or how they will reply, he/she will learn that the characters are studies in contradiction: heat and ice with regard to emotions; nobility and baseness with regard to ethics.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Arkansas is a great read! A fantastic combination of well-developed characters, intriguing plot and unbelievably clever, witty dialogue. The story of Kyle and Swin is an incredible saga that includes everything from sinister encounters with the South's drug underworld to comical exchanges with the many great southern characters found along the way. Brandon keeps you guessing, laughing and genuinely entertained right up to the last page.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I do not know if this book is just great or super great, but is is above the norm, take along an open mind and you will be lost in it's pages. Good writing is like that. I did not expect much, and got a really fun and exciting reading experience. Is that not what we read fiction for?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book through McSweeney's and was interested enough to buy it. A bit of crime, a bit of meandering soul searching, and a lot of beautiful writing. It is wonderfully descriptive and engaging, but not overwrought.
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Format: Hardcover
I've mostly been reading nonfiction this year; Arkansas, however, made me VERY glad to have tried something new. Between the book's immediate, taut, non-stop (and sometimes gruesome (and I mean that in a good way-- I still can't look at a coat hanger the same way)) action and its hilariously twisted characters, it very quickly roped me in. In terms of style... I don't get out as much as I'd like, so I guess the best I could come up with today is that Brandon strikes me as a southern-fried, Americanized Brookmyre. Very much looking forward to his next one.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I could not put this book down. I had read the reviews of it and knew it was a drug-runner book, which sounded interesting enough, but what the reviewers didn't mention is that the writing in this book is amazing: hilarious, startling, fast, and cutting. Completely engaging on both a narrative level and at the level of the sentence, first to last page.
BRAVO!
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