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2011 Catapult Notable List – #4

#4: Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

This debut collection of short stories hit me like ten tons of bricks when I read it. Ten thousand tons. I found it impossible to shake Frank’s raw, gritty stylings of rural Indiana, no matter how badly I wanted to tear myself away and step back into the light. Seriously, after each of the first, maybe, 5 stories, I tried to put the book down – hell, just to stretch my legs & feel some sun on my face – but I was grabbed and yanked and coerced and forced back into the pages of the book. Each story is like a squared-up punch right in the face – like the guy sets his feet, his friend holds your arms down and your head steady, and he unloads his big hamfist with all 230 pounds of himself behind it right into your teeth. So I kept reading.

I’ve been going back over a lot of these stories for this post & I’ve just been struck – again – by the insane power of the opening lines from every single one of these. Check some of this action out:

Pitchfork and Darnel burst through the scuffed motel door like two barrels of buckshot. Using the daisy-patterned bed to divide the dealers from the buyers, Pitchfork buried a .45 caliber Colt in Karl’s peat moss unibrow with his right hand. (from “Hill Clan Cross”)

J.W. Duke was choking down his fifth cup of kettle coffee, nursing a hangover, when his wife, Margaret, came through the kitchen door, screaming as if her skin had been pressed through a cheese grater. (from “A Coon Hunter’s Noir”)

It was too damn early for this shit, Officer Moon Flisport Conservation told himself as he steered his Expedition down the country road, sweating bourbon through his pores. His heart was pounding in his skull, ready to explode across the front windshield because of the Knob Creek he’d torn into last night after his wife, Ina, had called him a racist. (from “Officer Down (Tweakers)”)

These are openers, friend, designed to lure you in with their dulcet tones and sense of intrigue. What they are really telling you is to stay the hell away from these people. Ah, but you can’t, can you? For deep down, they are you and me… 

Frank’s writing really reminds me a lot of James Crumley’s in The Last Good Kiss and Denis Johnson’s stories in Jesus’ Son – all are populated with the scabby, tweaked-out dwellers of America’s nasty underbelly who use every ounce of their strength to do horrible shit to one another for a variety of inexplicable causes. I can’t think of another writer out there today that I’m more excited to see more from than Frank Bill. This guy’s the real deal, a stone-cold badass writer with more skill & chops than you know what to do with. Rock on.


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