17 May 2011

Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Title: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Author: Tom Franklin
Publisher/Year: Harper Perennial / 2010
Date Finished: 16 May 2011
Source/Format: TLC / Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
When a young girl goes missing, fingers start pointing at "Scary Larry" Ott, who 25 years before was suspected in the disappearance of another girl. Soon, Larry winds up shot, and Silas, once Larry's friend, now the town constable, finds himself investigating. But why was Larry shot? Attempted murder? Suicide? What really happened 25 years ago? Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a perfectly atmospheric literary suspense.

A Bit of a Ramble
This novel has been well discussed across the blogosphere, making me wonder what I have to offer the conversation that is new. The intricate way the story weaves together, the beautiful flow of language, and the bittersweet quality of the mystery have all been discussed. The appropriateness of the title due to the crooked nature of the community, events, and people has been mentioned many times. So what I thought I would focus on this time around is a pattern, perhaps even a motif, in the story - the impact of moments.

The plot rests on the importance of individual moments in time, distinct choices characters make which have lasting effects. Sometimes these choices are thought-out, a continued affair or persistent neglect; other times these choices are spur-of-the-moment, an immediate and mainly selfish decision to do - or not do - something. These are the moments which lead to the "what-if" scenarios on the small, but noteworthy scale. While some what-ifs are grand, almost epic in nature (what if someone had assassinated Hitler in his youth), the situations in Franklin's novel are more everyday. What if I had just given the gun back? What if I had refused to come back? What if I had told the truth? Despite the almost mundane quality of the choices and the small circle which is impacted, these decisions are no less momentous to those involved.

I am not sure why this particular concept struck me so forcefully other than the obvious - on more than one occasion, characters ponder their past decisions in light of recent events. This is definitely a book about the past and its impact on the present. Two stories are being told in alternating chapters: the present where a girl is missing and Larry has been shot, and the past where two boys grow together and then apart before a girl goes missing.

I really enjoyed piecing together the events surrounding both times. Some complain that there were no real surprises or twists, but I am very thankful for that. I find the SURPRISE ENDING a wee bit gimmicky and overused. The revelations didn't slap you across the face; they slowly built in such a way that the big reveal was more an acknowledgement of what I already knew rather than a dousing of icy water.

If you haven't read this one yet, I highly recommend picking it up. While the weather here in Illinois made it impossible, reading this one on a sunny day by a nice stretch of water sounds perfectly complementary...well, maybe contradictory, but sometimes things which are contradictory are actually complementary.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

You've Gotta Read This; Fizzy Thoughts; Linus's Blanket; Rhapsody in BooksThe Book Lady's Blog;

I read and reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book Tour. Check out the other reviews for Franklin's book.

Question: Do you find it extremely difficult to review a book that has a wide spread presence in the book blog community?


  1. To answer the question, yes, I worry I won't have anything new to offer. But I think each blogger's opinion is their own, and that matters! Of all the reviews I've read of this one, your take is insightful.

    Tom Franklin actually called in to our book club a couple of months ago. One of our members was "underwhelmed" by the book and felt there were loose threads, including the various murders. Franklin's point was that at its heart, it was a story of relationships and as you stated, the consequences of subtle decisions made throughout our lives. As Franklin put it, when it came to the book and its plot, "less is more". BTW, the audio of this one is fabulous.

  2. I have seen this all over but not many reviews at all, it was great to read yours. Plus every blogger has only a few they fully trust and take recommendations from so its great to see 'your' take.

  3. What a great review! I'm so glad you focused on a specific motif instead of just rehashing the plot. Like you, I've seen this book on so many blogs, so it was nice to read more insightful, in-depth thoughts.

    I do think it's harder to review a book that has a wide spread presence. Part of me thinks I won't have anything new to say or won't say it as well as other bloggers. Also, I'm sure people get tired of seeing the same book come up in their readers and are more likely to just skip right over another review.

  4. What I liked the most was the reversal of the usual racist elements. I also liked the way Mississippi was like a character in the plot.

  5. Every time I see this reviewed, I wonder why I still haven't picked it up! There is just so much to read. Plus, part of me shies away from a book when everyone loves it - no particular reason, other than my subconscious is ornery.

    I need to give in. Soon.

  6. I am on this tour as well, and should be picking up the book this week. I appreciated hearing your thoughts on it, and am really looking forward to reading it. It has been getting really excellent press.

  7. Well said, Trisha! I agree with all your points -- really liked this book when I read it back around Christmas. I thought the writing and the suspense building were both just great.

  8. I do think it is harder to review a book that has been reviewed by a ton of other bloggers. One, you want to write your own thing without being influenced by other reviews. I always try to avoid reading reviews for books I'm reading so I don't let other people's thoughts influence my reviews. Second, you feel like you are repeating something that everyone already knows about. But, I've found that often isn't true. I often enjoy seeing multiple viewpoints on a book; it gives you a better sense of the book itself and lets you see what a broader diversity of readers think of the book. Yet, at the same time, it can be annoying to see the same book reviewed over and over again.

  9. I completely agree with you and the rest of the commenters in saying it's hard to review a book that already has a ton of exposure. That's why I don't really like or participate in blog tours, to be honest. (Well, that and the fatigue of being a blog follower and seeing reviews of the same book everywhere.) BUT that said, not everyone follows the same blogs! While I have seen some reviews of this book show up on my feed, yours is the first one I've actually READ, and now the book sounds quite interesting to me, so there :-) Well done!

  10. I want to read this one badly. Maybe once I finish up my current book!

  11. Like Other Jill, I liked the fact that the white guy was the bad guy. Otherwise, I wasn't exactly bowled over by this one, although there was a lot I liked. But most of it has faded after a few months...unfortunately, I just don't remember much beyond the basics.

  12. To answer your question, I do find it challenging to review a book with a widespread blog presence. I always feel a bit like everything's been said, but with that, I always know I like to read my blog friends' opinions no matter how many reviews I've read of the book previously.

    Glad you reviewed this one! I've been interested in it since Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog discussed it on The Bookrageous Podcast.

  13. I love that you focused on a different part of the book - it IS hard to review something that everyone else seems to have reviewed already.

    Thanks for being on the tour Trisha! I'm glad this book turned out to be so good.


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