Crooked Letter, Crooked LetterPosted: 2010/10/20
Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York: William Morrow, 2010.
Confession: I couldn’t put this down. A friend from Germany was in town, someone I hadn’t seen in almost three years and all I wanted to do was read Crooked Letter. I don’t normally want to ignore friends!
Crooked Letter takes place in rural Mississippi bouncing between the early 1970s and the late 2000s. From the very first sentence you are pulled into something sinister. Hints of evil lurk between the lines. Larry Ott has always been strange. A social outcast since grade school Larry pulls outrageous stunts, desperate to be noticed; bringing snakes to school, scaring girls with a grotesque Halloween mask. When a pretty high school classmate disappears Larry is suspected of murder. Unbelievably, he is the last person to be seen with her. While her body was never found and Larry’s guilt couldn’t be proven, he remained the town’s only suspect. Fast forward 25 years and another pretty young girl has gone missing. When she is found, raped and murdered, on Larry’s property it seems like an open and shut case. Except, Larry has a silent almost forgotten ally – Silas “32” Jones, a former classmate and one-time secret friend. Secret because in 1970s deep south Mississippi pockets of racism were more than alive and well. It wasn’t acceptable for white Larry to be seen with black Silas. As Chabot, Mississippi’s only constable Silas sets out to learn the truth, even if it means digging up the ugly past. Tom Franklin is very thorough with descriptions of each character’s personal life . You are pulled into Larry Ott’s mechanic shop and can smell the grease just as easily as riding along with Constable Silas Jones as he works his investigation. This is a story first and foremost about friendship and guilt and forgiveness. It is also a story about the harsh realities of racism and poverty and the scars that run deep.
I only found one bothersome discrepancy. Larry Ott is described as 41 years old. Miss Voncille is described as a woman in her “early 50s.” That would mean at the very minimum there is a ten-year age difference between Larry and Voncille. But because they both attended the same high school Constable Silas asked Voncille if she knew Larry. Here’s the thing – Larry would have been a toddler when Voncille started high school. If their ages had been reversed it would have allowed for the “legend” of Larry and his weirdness to be played up – Voncille could have heard stories of Larry despite the fact he graduated ten years ahead of Voncille.
In a way I could relate to Larry, especially his obsession with books. His father didn’t want him “wasting” the day by reading either.
Best line I hope is kept, “When he left, Larry lay amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from the weather” (p 251).