Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin, William Morrow, 2010, 272 pp
I read so many books from earlier years, the 1940s, the 1950s, and after reading Tom Franklin's book, I thought about comparisons. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is essentially a story about race in the South. It is also about friendship, betrayal, growing up, and atonement. Those themes have been present in literature since Homer. Novels about race relations have also been around since Huckleberry Finn. So what is the difference between now and then?
Truthfully, not much. People form friendships, fall in love, and betray each other across racial divides, religious differences, and national borders all the time and have done so since the beginning of time. How about Clan of the Cave Bear? I hate to admit this because it throws into doubt almost the entire premise of my memoir, but the stories that writers feel compelled to write and that readers enjoy reading are pretty much the same stories, over and over. It's as if we are still at our mother/father/grandmother/grandfather's knee, begging them to tell us again the one about...
Then there are titles. In the past few days I have read Exodus, Leon Uris (not about the one from the Bible, that was Moses, by Sholem Asch, but about the creation of modern day Israel.) Even so, it is a pretty straight ahead, informative title. I also read The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, which sounds like a nice book about ladies making lace, drinking tea, etc. (It is, but mostly it is about abuse.) So I thought Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter might be about letter writing between criminals. Ha!
Southern children learn how to spell Mississippi this way: "M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback, I." So yes, a story set in Mississippi with two young boys, one white, one black, both confused by their parents, both lonely, who become friends and then are torn apart by the pressures of society. It is a good, old Southern tragedy with a fabulous and surprising plot twist wrapped up by a cautiously hopeful ending.
The writing is top notch, the pacing is perfect and the emotional impact is satisfying. I can't imagine anyone being sorry to have spent a few evenings reading it. As for me, I want this kind of story, again and again.
(Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. After May 17, it will be available in paperback.)