In Willam Gay's debut novel, The Long Home
, the devil comes to Tennessee in the form of one Dallas Hardin, a vile and violent man who brings tragedy in his wake. Set in the backwoods South of the 1940s, Gay's tale is populated with a colorful array of types familiar to readers of William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and other practitioners of that particular brand of larger-than-life literature that seems to thrive south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Though the types might be familiar, Gay does an impressive job of making them his own, each with his or her distinctive, fully human qualities that transcend the roles they play as bootlegger, town drunk, or even hero.
The story opens when Dallas Hardin ("Old Nick," according to one character--"or whatever he's goin' by now") comes to town and wrests away home, wife, and whiskey still from the seriously ill Thomas Hovington. Only in a Southern novel could such an event be preceded by the inexplicable opening of a brimstone-scented pit near the victim's house without the reader even blinking an eye. Enter young Nathan Winer, hired by Hardin to build a honky-tonk. Winer starts out thinking he can earn his wage while steering clear of his employer's evil ways, but it soon becomes apparent that he can't--especially after he falls in love with Tom Hovington's daughter, now Hardin's stepdaughter, Amber Rose. Having given his heart, Nathan has taken the first inexorable step towards a final, deadly confrontation with the devil.
If Gay's themes are big--nothing less than the battle between good and evil--and his metaphors drawn unabashedly from that old-time religion, his novel is nonetheless firmly grounded in the flesh-and-bone world--sometimes nightmarishly so. There is a lot of blood spilt over the course of this novel, in myriad ways and in graphic detail. Indeed, one quality that The Long Home shares with most of Cormac McCarthy's work is that it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. But Gay balances the horror with moments of true beauty, and his novel is undeniably compelling. Enjoy it for its many strengths and for its promise of a bright literary future --Sheila Bright
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From Publishers Weekly
Gay's debut, an ambitious saga of love and retribution set in backwoods Georgia in the 1950s, is by turns quaint and chargedAand sometimes both. The novel begins with the 1932 murder of Nathan Winer, an honest and virtuous laborer, by Dallas Hardin, a corrupt small-town tycoon, after Winer demands that Hardin move his illegal whiskey still off Winer's land. Hardin gradually gains control of his community through extortion, bribery and psychological manipulation. When the dead man's son, also Nathan, unwittingly becomes a carpenter for his father's murderer many years afterwards, he finds his life bound with Hardin's as he falls in love with seductive beauty Amber Rose, frequently used by Hardin as an escort for his rich acquaintances. Ancient sage and recluse William Tell Oliver, who witnessed the elder Nathan's death and has the victim's skull to prove it, steps in to rectify old wrongs when Hardin threatens to kill the young Winer to maintain control over Amber Rose. A haze of mystery hangs over the narrative: voices whisper and strange lights shine from deep within swampy forests, testifying to the presence of a force more powerful than any petty human tyrant. Strange characters inhabit Gay's world, too, like a boy who thinks baby pigs come from underground or a traveling salesman who brags about his largesse but lives off of Winer's mother. Though his dialogue may sometimes be too twangy, Gay writes well-crafted prose that unfolds toward necessary (if occasionally unexpected) conclusions. Enhanced by his feeling for country rhythms and a pervasive, biblical sense of justice, Gay's take on the Southern morality tale is skillfully achieved, if familiar in its scope.
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