Oct 14, 2009

THE GOOD BROTHER by Chris Offutt

posted by Jennie

Highly recommended by two friends. This is good!

review by JO ANN KISER at
The New York Times Online

As in his book of short stories, ''Kentucky Straight,'' Offutt combines hardheaded realism with a necessary lyricism that enables him to conjure up the ghost-laden images of his native Kentucky with unsentimental clarity. Even when pondering murder and its consequences, Virgil notices ''the sweet air of the woods. . . . The hills surrounded him like a box. The sky was a black slab etched with stars. He wondered how many shallow graves lay in the earth nearby.'' At another, more pleasant juncture in Virgil's youth, ''he inhaled the heavy scent of summer earth, a loamy musk that settled over him like a caul. He was home.''

Offutt successfully evokes the Kentucky hills and the moral complexity of their inhabitants. In time, Virgil sees beyond the model of his lovable but reckless brother, who disregarded the law because it often favored townspeople. Instead, he learns to appreciate more fully his brother-in-law, who, like so many hill people, works hard in a poor land in order to feed and care for his extended family and yet manages to take great delight in that family.

Offutt's inexperience as a novelist emerges once he departs from his native terrain; he can't hold our interest in the lives and motivations of his Montana characters. But this is a minor complaint. ''The Good Brother'' is a fine first novel by a fierce writer. One can only hope that in his laudable determination to be more than regional, Offutt doesn't leave the hills behind.

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