Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: A Novel, by Tom Franklin – Book Review

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom FranklinCrooked Letter Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
William Morrow – October 5, 2010 – Hardcover – 320 pages
Source: Sent by the publisher for review

A few weeks ago Harper Collins hosted a party for Tom Franklin in a bar on the Lower East Side to celebrate his (to me) oddly, and emphatically titled Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  When I chatted with him at the party he graciously  explained (while autographing his entire back list for me, sweet!) that the title  is a reference to the way children in the South are taught to spell Mississippi.  Who knew?  As many summers as I spent in Alabama, the subject never came up, but after reading the novel, I can see why it is titled as such.  The back roads, farms, swamps and landscapes of Mississippi play almost as big a role as the main characters in this atmospheric and suspense filled novel about two boys whose fleeting friendship drastically alters the course of their lives.

Larry Ott and Silas Jones become secret friends after Silas and his mother move to an abandoned cabin on Larry’s father’s land in small town Mississippi.  Always an introspective child, Larry has prayed for a friend all his life, but when a neighbor girl goes missing after a date with Larry, the boys part ways and lead drastically different lives until another missing girl casts suspicion on Larry all over again.

Some books should come with a warning that they are about to disrupt your life, as surely I had to make several concessions in mine while reading this book.  Right from the very beginning I was sucked into Larry’s solitary life – going to work every day, reading books through the day and night, still suffering the ostracism that the town has imposed over the girl who went missing after a date with him over twenty five years ago.  Franklin doesn’t wait to get the story moving along and I was on pins and needles trying to figure out if Larry has committed the crime of which he has always been suspected, and how that is going to affect his life now that another young woman is missing.  Silas’s life is hardly all that he imagined it to be, but he has nonetheless managed to carve out a a comfortable, if not luxurious, life as a constable of the tiny town  with a girlfriend who is building a career as a paramedic.

I loved seeing the relationships that Silas had with members of the town and the unique role that he played in a community where the mayor doubled as traffic control if he wasn’t around to cover the shift.  While Larry’s story is primarily explored by delving into the past, and Silas’s is unfolding in the present, the novel is finely paced and I remained interested in both narratives as they were weaving themselves together, leading to the conclusion of this page turner of a novel.  The intimate, finely observed details of small town places and faces, complex racial tensions, ambiguous protagonists,and a looming mystery are what made this a tense and gripping, yet comforting read.

Recommended.

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19 Comments

  1. My dad’s family is from Mississippi and that’s how my grandma taught me to spell Mississippi. I saw mention of this book a few days ago and was intrigued, because that’s the first thing I thought of!

  2. When I saw the title of the book I figure it had something to do with Mississippi. I’m from Louisiana so I know the crooked letter spelling of Mississippi. It sounds like a really interesting book.

  3. Oh that “crooked letter, crooked letter” thing really brings me back! I’d forgotten they’d taught us that. Did he tell you the other part, that the “p” was referred to as “humpback” in the spelling?

    1. I don’t think he mentioned that part but I looked it up online when I got home that night. It still doesn’t really make sense to me how that wold help. LOL

  4. I was also taught how to spell Mississippi that way! So I knew instantly what it meant too. And wow, does this sound like a great book, such a great Southern book! I’m going to the library website now to put it on hold. Great review Nicole!

  5. When I first read the title I thought it was rather intriguing, but then when I read your description I was flooded with memories of sitting around the kitchen table and my dad teaching me to spell Mississippi in this way (and offering explanations for each letter).

    The storyline sounds fantastic!

  6. Eureka! Now the title makes perfect since…thanks for clearing that up.
    Enjoyed the review….the story sounds rather unique in that it seems to explore past memories while still keeping a firm view of the present. Not certain that it’s one for me, but definitely appreciate the spotlight on it. Happy reading!

  7. Okay, this northerner had no clue what Crooked Letter meant! But now that I do and I learned about the book, I see that I need to track this one down. Arghhhh.