Monday, August 27, 2012

The Wettest County in the World - Book Thoughts

I recently finished reading The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant.

This book peaked my interest because it's a recently written novel (published 2008), is historical fiction, and is being adapted to film (Lawless, due in theaters this week August 29, 2012).

There are a variety of great things about this book. If some were to ask me point blank whether I would recommend this book, to most people I would respond something to the effect of:

"It's a really good book, it's incredibly well written. The connection to the author's family makes this really a unique book. At time's the writing style is almost 'too smart.' There are points were the story get's lost in itself, and I have to imagine that has something to do with the writer's personal goals in this story. Despite this, the setting is captured so well that anyone with the slightest interest in the place or time period should definitely read this."

Here's kind of further break down of some of those thoughts:


  • Well Written: Some of these passages are beautiful and could easily be pulled out in a creative writing class as an example of fine writing. Bondurant, like some other authors has made the literary choice of writing dialogue without quotation marks. I'm not sure how I feel about that choice, but I think can give you an idea of the book's style.
  • Connection to the Author's Family: The story is about three brothers in Franklin County, Virginia during the late 1920s to the mid-1930s. The inspiration for the story is the details from history and family stories of Matt Bounderant's grandfather and great-uncles (Jack, Forrest, and Howard Bounderant)
  • Writing is Almost "Too Smart": Matt Bounderant has chosen to write this book in reasonable size chapters but the third person narration shifts between characters (which there are many) as well as dates and time. This is all purposeful, and I'm sure it was all well throughout in order to keep the story action-oriented without dragging it out connecting the dots. Like many stories like this, readers will often anchor to one question or specific characters. For me, I struggled with the chapters that dealt with Sherwood Anderson, who was the real life reporter/writer who's book Kit Brandon: A Portrait (1936) plays in with this film.
  • Lost in the Writer's Personal Goals: I'm not sure how the average editor would look at this story, but I have to think that some editors might have requested that the story be more focused. Yet, there are sections of the story where I imagine that Matt Bondurant was trying to tie in some family story, family photograph, or historical fact that he uncovered, and the nugget of information became a whole chapter, character, or scene. Even by telling the story of three brothers, the brother's are handled in the book as equal protagonist. None of the three men get significantly more or less attention in the plot. This all makes it seem more like a family history at time, rather than a novel. 
  • The Setting is Captured So Well: There's something special about historical fiction in that the authors of these books have the ability to recreate a place and time from the past. Some do this well, others struggle. This is a case of true success. I've never personally explored Franklin County, Virginia, but I can certainly now imagine what the county and the people may have been like in the later part of prohibition and the great depression. For historical times and places to become real in your mind, is a true treasure, and Matt Bounderant success in setting alone makes The Wettest County in the World worth reading.

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