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Poachers: Stories Paperback – Bargain Price, May 30, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Penzler Pick, December 1999: As the editor of an annual series for Houghton Mifflin titled Best American Mystery Stories, I read scores, if not hundreds, of little magazines in search of the best crime fiction published that year. One story that came to light from the Texas Review was "Poachers" by Tom Franklin, which I thought was easily the most original and memorable tale of 1998. It went on to win the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America and became the title of Franklin's first book, a short story collection of such distinction that it has already provided a shoo-in for spring 2000s Best American Mystery Stories of the Century.

"Poachers" is no ordinary tale of detection but rather a mood piece that will remind the reader of the best of James Lee Burke. Set in the swamps of the deep South, it is a riveting tale of three brothers who are so violent and amoral that they will kill anyone or anything in their path. One of their victims is a young lawman who was much loved, causing the locals to bring in their own hired gun, a game warden of legendary skill as a hunter of poachers. One by one, he tracks down the crazed brothers in a quest for justice.

The other stories in this beautifully produced little volume are also superb. While there is occasional humor, this is not a collection to read if you're in the mood for P.G. Wodehouse or Dave Barry. The dark woods and hollows and the unforgiving swamps and their inhabitants do not make for a sunshiny reading experience. As the old wooden sign in Poachers announces, "Jesus Is Not Coming." Franklin's first novel will be published in 2000 and I, for one, can't wait. --Otto Penzler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

These 10 honestly crafted and carefully executed tales of cottonmouths and skulking outlaws in the South unflinchingly explore the pitfalls and dangers involved in making one's place in the world. The collection's power arises from Franklin's reluctance to analyze its (often bloody) events. In "Dinosaurs," a waste inspector takes a huge stuffed rhinoceros as a reward for not closing down a gas station with several hazardous leaky pumps. In "Grit," a devious laborer at a minerals processing plant trades positions with his supervisor through blackmail involving gambling debts, only to see the scam backfire. The protagonist of "Triathlon," a man trapped in a decaying marriage, remembers fishing for sharks on the night before his wedding. Fantasy has its place, too, as in "Alaska," in which a rambling male voice describes an imagined trip to the Northwest that never gets farther than the shores of a pond in some unspecified Southern location; although little happens, the story's dreamy meandering is seductive. In "The Ballad of Duane Juarez," a man commits small crimes without guilt because he has given himself a fake name, and thereby a fake identity. The other stories in the book, however, only provide a tantalizing buildup to the chilling title story, in which a legendary and demonic game warden in a small Alabama town stealthily and privately punishes three youths who have murdered his predecessor. Franklin announces the arrival of the avenger with a sentence no more complete than "A match striking," and yet this is enough for a good scare. While he may occasionally wax sentimental about life in the impoverished South, Franklin's style is often as laconic and simply spoken as his characters' dialogue, sometimes close to Hemingway, but more often akin to Denis Johnson or Raymond Carver in its resonant ordinariness. Although some readers may balk at the virtual absence of women from these intensely masculine yarns, those who persist will be persuaded by their gruff grace. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688177719
  • ASIN: B003H4RCB6
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,317,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in the hamlet of Dickinson, Alabama, which has a population of around 400 and is about half-white, half-black. I attended Dickinson Baptist Church for a while. I grew up a nonhunter in a hunting household, and I liked writing, drawing, and reading. I am the first member of my family to finish college.

When I turned 18, we moved to Mobile, and my father, a mechanic, opened a shop there. I went to the University of South Alabama, but I got such bad grades that my father told me he wasn't going to pay anymore. From there, I got jobs in a warehouse, at a plant that made sandblasting grit, and finally with an engineering firm, which sent me to a chemical plant where I spent years cleaning up hazardous waste. All through these jobs, I took classes at the University of South Alabama, paying my own tuition as I went, and finally discovering creative writing classes. I worked in my late twenties, finishing my BA and beginning my MA, in a hospital in Mobile, and also tutoring in the university's writing lab. From there, I got a job teaching at Selma University, an historical all-black Baptist college. I was neither black nor Baptist (not anymore) and was, usually, the only white person on campus. I taught six classes one semester, six different classes, and five the next. I also finished my comprehensive exams for my MA, finished my thesis (a short story collection), and worked on my foreign language proficiency exam.

I'd published a few short stories and won third prize in the Playboy College Fiction Contest (around 1991), and so I decided to pursue writing as a career. I applied to several MFA programs and wound up, fortunately, at the University of Arkansas. There I met my wife, poet Beth Ann Fennelly. We got married at the end of that four-year-long program, and around the same time, I sold my first book, Poachers, and the idea for Hell at the Breech, to William Morrow. We lived apart that first year of marriage--it was hard getting teaching jobs in the same city--but moved to Galesburg, Illinois, where my wife got a job teaching at Knox College. I won the Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and moved there for one semester. After that, we decided no more living apart.

I taught at Knox for a year, during which we had our first child, Claire. Then I was offered the John and Renee Grisham Chair in Creative Writing in Oxford, Mississippi. We moved there, planning to return to Galesburg, but never have. Beth Ann was offered a job at Ole Miss, and they named me an ongoing writer-in-residence--and there we remain to this day. Our second child, Thomas Gerald Franklin III (I'm Junior) was born in Oxford in 2005. We love Oxford and hope never to leave.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Randall Ivey on October 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Like O'Connor, Franklin has a perfect ear for Southern speech and uses it to hilarious and incisive results. Unlike O'Connor, his characters are doomed with nary a chance for redemption. Here he resembles Crews more, with characters at the end of their tethers, drowning their nihilism in sex, materialism, and booze, lots and lots of booze. In some cases they crave escape to somewhere better or different (like Alaska); in most cases they just don't give a damn. "The Ballad of Duane Juarez" seems most illustrative of this tendency; it is a terrifying tale in which the narrator gives in to the most primitive, scrounging impulses.
Other influences are apparent here, some non-Southern. One can see the presence of Cormac McCarthy, for instance, and his deliberate, blunt, unsentimental prose, or, inevitably, Hemingway's unmistakable minimalism. There is no magnolia-scented prose here; that would imply nobility and hope. Other reviewers have criticized Franklin because his stories often seem lopped off with their abrupt endings. I must admit that bothered me some too, until I realized that a nice, tidy, satisfying ending would be completely out of character with these Franklin's folk. Their restlessness and hopelessness end only when they die.
The celebrated title story impresses most, with its classic theme of survival and its combination of terror and pity. "Grit" comes in second, with its protagonist sucked into a scam and the charms of an exotic woman.
If you're looking for a happy ending, stay far, far away from this collection. If you want a glimpse into the desperate, funny, pathetic, hopeful, hopeless lives SOME white Southerners lead, proceed with caution.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on July 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
A collection of stories, all of which have a heart of darkness. We're talking plot, suspense, character - and alligators. Not for the faint of heart. Nothing charming or frothy here; just riveting tales of violence, drunkenness, death, craziness, and obsession. Superb - only don't read it right before falling asleep.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Poachers is like an exotic nine-course meal. At first you're a little apprehensive and you're not sure you're going to like it. But with each new, unidentifiable dish you become more and more satiated and finally gorge yourself in delight. The final title story is definitely the dessert. Delicious, it hits you right in the gut. This book explores a world I'll never know first-hand, and I'm glad Tom Franklin explored it in my stead. I'm smacking my lips in anticipation of his next book, which apparently will be a novel set in the 1890s.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Mullin on October 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Franklin has written a very impressive collection of short stories here, which I thought culminated in the excellent novella Poachers that gives the volume its name. He explores the backwoods of Alabama with a native's knowledge of the hunters and fishermen who live in the state's rural areas, and at the same time he possesses considerable skill in storytelling. I've never visited the area he writes so convincingly about, but those who live there seem to indicate he nailed the characters dead on.
The story "Poachers" involves a group of three amoral and uncontrollable brothers who wreak havoc in Alabama until a mysterious, legendary and mostly unseen game warden is dispatched to start picking them off. The suspense is tremendous as the hunters become the hunted in a cool, calculated, unhurried style. The story reminded me a little of the eerie movie Southern Comfort, where a bunch of National Guardsmen where systematically hunted down and killed in a rural Louisiana swamp by unseen Cajuns.
Other stories in this volume, while not as powerful as the title piece, were uniformly above average and sometimes very good. Frankin is always entertaining, and seems always to know what he is writing about. The author has been critized here at Amazon by one or two reviewers for inconsistent plot development, but I thought the plot of "Poachers" was as fully developed as that of most full length novels, and some of the shorter stories were meant to be experimental and a little abrupt. Short stories are seldom wrapped in conventional packages. Overall, I give the volume 4 stars, maybe 4 1/2 if you concentrate mostly on the title novella, and I enthusiastically look forward to reading Franklin's debut novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
First I'd like to comment on the inane Kirkus review, especially the comment that calls the author "the kind of Southerner who would consider Montgomery the Big City." (I'm probably paraphrasing; I don't have the review in front of me.) Anyway, it's a typical comment from an ignoramous who can't separate the author from his fictional creations. I think that Kirkus assumes that Franklin is backwards because he doesn't condescend to his characters. A lesser writer might, because there are some unattractive people here, but Franklin is much smarter than that. Although the Kirkus review is favorable, it does a disservice to his vivid and beautiful, if dark, book. And the stupid comment at the end (of the Kirkus review) really steams me! Franklin's Alabama is a work of the imagination, not a documentary... Poachers opens a door, all right, but onto Franklin's brilliant imagination, not onto the actual South.
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