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Joe: A Novel Hardcover – October 1, 1991

122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With this powerful, immensely affecting novel Brown comes into his own as a writer of stature. As in his previous books ( Dirty Work ; Big Bad Love ), his subjects are poor Southern rednecks who exist from day to day, from hand to mouth, in tar-paper shacks and shabby mobile homes. Some are hard, mean and utterly lacking in moral fiber; others, such as the eponymous protagonist, try to live with integrity and dignity despite limited opportunities, despite the ingrained, ubiquitous habit of drinking prodigious amounts of beer and whiskey. Joe Ransom is almost 50, newly divorced, with bitter recollections of years spent in the pen for assaulting a police officer while drunk. A product of his time and place, Joe is reckless, self-destructive, hard-driving, hard-drinking, sometimes ruthless, but he is essentially kindhearted and decent. Joe manages a crew of black laborers who poison trees for a lumber company. When he gives a temporary job to teenage Gary Jones, part of a migratory family so destitute the boy has never seen a toothbrush or understood the significance of a traffic light, Joe is touched by the boy's dogged determination to work although Gary's alcoholic, vicious, amoral father takes the money as soon as Gary earns it. In his own laconic way Joe acts as mentor for Gary, until, in the novel's wrenching conclusion, fate and Joe's own stubborn morality wrench them apart. Seamlessly constructed, the novel hums with perfect pitch, with language as lean and unsparing as the poverty-mired Mississippi rural community Brown depicts. He has achieved mastery of descriptive detail, demonstrated in scenes that variously depict the contents of a country general store, a bloody dogfight, men butchering a deer, Joe cleaning out bullet wounds in his arm without an anesthetic, a punishing rainstorm. The dialogue is as natural as spring water. Brown never condescends to his uneducated, gambling-addicted, casually promiscuous characters; with compassion and eloquence, he illumines their painful lives and gives them worth.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The author of Dirty Work ( LJ 7/89) scores tough points with this disturbing look at the underside of rural life. Joe Ransom is 43, a hard-drinking, rough-edged ex-con who's used up most of the cards in his personal deck. Foreman of a Mississippi lumber company's "tree-poisoning" crew, he meets Gary Jones, age 15, seeking work. Gary's father is an itinerant farm worker, a man so thieving, murderous, and unwashed that Faulkner's Snopeses look genteel in comparison. Gary has never been to school, owned a toothbrush, or had enough to eat. He wants out of the everyday horror of his life. His dream is modest: to own an old pickup, to buy enough food to feed his addled mother and silent little sister. Joe likes Gary, and between backsliding bouts of boozing, whoring, and gambling, tries to help. The bond they forge and a slim hope for redemption link them in a shattering, inevitable climax. Recommended.
- Le nore Hart, Machipongo, Va.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 345 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st edition (October 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0945575610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0945575610
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #366,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on July 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
I struggled for days to come up with a way to start a review for Larry Brown's "Joe." Heck, I am still not sure how to do it. My difficulties have little to do with comprehending what the author tries to say with the story; "Joe" is hardly a difficult book to read in terms of structure or language. No Edward Gibbonesque prose here, no Proustian run on sentences or post-modern psychobabble to resolve either. Nope, you won't spend a whit of time banging your head against problematic prose with this book. Brown's writing style is simplicity itself, a smooth, cut to the bone technique that oddly reminded me of William Somerset Maugham, if you can imagine. Come to think of it, Maugham and Brown share a lot of similarities in subject matter too. If you thought the author of "The Razor's Edge" and "Up at the Villa" tossed around moral quandaries fast and furious, you haven't seen anything until you pick up Larry Brown's "Joe." One of the cover flap blurbs said something to the effect that "Joe" deals with the big themes in life, like honor, redemption, good versus evil, and temptation. Yeah, for once a cover flap got it right. Brown's book does deal with the important stuff in life, and it does it in a way I won't soon forget.
The main character is Joe Ransom, a forty something ex-convict spending his time poisoning trees for a large lumber company. He's got a wife who left him after years of dealing with his gambling, drinking, and carousing. He's got a couple of kids he rarely sees. Joe's got a broken down truck, a pit bull guarding his house, a girlfriend roughly the age of his own daughter, and blood vendettas going on with several dangerous locals.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Clare Quilty on February 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that I have to re-read every couple of years or so. And every time, I am pleased to find that it's as good as I remember.
The first time I read "Joe," I had just discovered "Big Bad Love" and I could not wait to read more Larry Brown. But whereas the previous collection of stories had humor and pathos and sad comedy in heaping portions, this is a book about dark places. The first book written after Brown had achieved his much-sought-after degree of success did not seem to find him in a pleasant mood. Relocate James Ellroy in the South and lengthen his machinegun sentences into paragraphs. Contemporize Cormac McCarthy. That's kind of what this book is like.
The Joe of the title is a man of questionable morals and steeped in prejudices that seem like self-fulfilling prophecies. He posions trees for a lumber company for a living, and then when the seasons change he plants new ones. He has more money and can kick more (...) than anybody around him and those factors make him despise almost everyone, including himself. Following him as he tries to create some good in the world is heart-wrenching and by no means sentimental.
I hope they never adapt this novel into a film. The prose and characterizations are so rich that they produce a movie in your head that is crystal clear and downright flawless.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Johnny Roulette on March 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you are not familiar with Brown's novels, then I offer you my condolences. You are deprived. Joe is, in my opinion, the best of Brown's disturbing and wonderful novels. There are no heroes in his books. There is also little in the way of hope and compassion. Brown tells a wicked story, rich with realism and imagery, like no one in the last half of the 20th century. As a writer, after reading Joe, I realized I had finally found a book that I could never realistically hope to rival. Joe, the book not the man, is flawless. I've heard Brown compared to Faulkner, but Brown has a readability that I never found with Faulkner. Do yourself a favor, get this book & get his debut novel, Dirty Work. There is every chance in the world that you will then become a Larry Brown fan for life. This novel is desolate and grim, but something about his writing endears you to it anyway. With most of the great writers long dead, it's refreshing to know that at least one master of the craft is not only still with us, but in the prime of his life. Joe will leave you aching and disillusioned. It will also leave you bleeding for more, more, more. Larry Brown develops his characters and plots better than anyone going.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Schtinky VINE VOICE on June 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
The wonder of Larry Brown's "Joe" is not so much the story itself, a depressing tale of a depressed era and region, but the astoundingly lush and yet simplified way the tale is told.
Joe starts out by introducing us to a dirt-farm family, homeless and wandering and worn out. Wade is a man who is instantly placed at the bottom of the human existence; a surly, unlikable alcoholic leading his despairing family into ruin. In the rural backwoods of Mississippi, he finds an abandoned shack complete with weeds growing up through the pale floorboards and settles himself in with his wife and three remaining children; Gary, Fay, and Dorothy.
And then we meet Joe Ransom, who scratches out his living by clearing out land tracts by poisoning the trees in order for them to be removed, working a crew of low and shiftless men. Joe has led a hard life, but remains a simple man with simple needs; booze, cigarettes, and women. He stops by the post office to visit his estranged wife at her job, yet continues to exercise his weakness for his young girlfriend Connie, who is the same age as his pregnant daughter.
Joe winds out hiring Gary, who is young and energetic and eager to make enough money to get away from his shiftless father. Joe takes a shine to Gary, and winds out sort of taking him under his wing, not so much as a protégé but rather from a desire to save the boy from the fate that would become his at the hands of his brutal father.
This is not a novel of a thickened plot unraveling at breakneck speeds towards an explosive conclusion; it is a poetically written journey through the intimate details of a life that will make no impact on the world as a whole. It is life lived at its most base of levels, survival on a day-to-day existence of needs versus means.
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