Former football star Silas “32” Jones was once the closest thing to a friend that Larry Ott had. They could not have been more different, in terms of race, poise, financial security, parental support or popularity, but they connected. For a time. After Cindy, everything changed.
The disappearance of popular Cindy Rutherford shook the small Mississippi town of Chabot – though she was never found, and there was no evidence, it was obvious that she was killed by her classmate – slightly strange and socially awkward, Larry’s story of dropping her off at her request is patently ridiculous.
Twenty years later the mystery continues to reverberate in Chabot, for nobody more than Larry Ott. His inherited automotive repair business used only by strangers passing through, Larry is more socially isolated than ever. The town has never forgotten; eight days after college girl Tina Rutherford was reported missing, Larry is shot in his home and left for dead.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is an arresting portrait of contrast and intersection – white and black, poor and rich, innocence and guilt, trust and betrayal, courage and cowardice, action and inaction all overlap and intersect. The text steps effortlessly between the past and the unfolding present, slowly revealing secrets and answers, while prompting psychological questions.
This is, quite clearly, literature despite the mystery at Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter’s core – though the disappearances, decades apart, of two white girls in their late teens act as an initial impetus for the narrative, they are a pretext for the exploration of deeper, less obvious mysteries. These include questions about the central characters of ‘Scary Larry’ and 32, but also about the meanings of friendship, connection, moral bravery, subtle peer pressure, fear, love and the meaning of truth. I realise that this description gives away almost nothing of the plot, but it's so closely interwoven that anything more specific would ruin it.
There are a number of laudatory reviews at the front of my paperback copy, with comparisons to other Southern literary works (To Kill a Mockingbird and Faulkner’s Sanctuary) – though I enjoyed the reading experience, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter didn’t quite have that level of emotional impact for me. The most pivotal revelations, which come late in the text, were gentle undulations in a text I found interesting and engaging but pastoral rather than vivid, no doubt in part because I'd guessed quite early on that Larry and 32 were brothers.
I felt that the book could stand on its own but, no doubt in response to public demand, there is an additional section at the end about the author, his back ground and the novel’s development, the process of turning autobiography in to fiction, and a readers’ group guide. I found this last particularly irritating, but this has more to do with me than the book itself.
I’m glad I read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a 2010 release I bought in Sydney this June (instead of reading books from my back log), read on my way to Hong Kong, and am reviewing on a train from Nijmegen to Schiphol. I shall leave it here, hoping it finds a receptive readership; I think once is sufficient for me. – Alex