Wednesday, November 23, 2011

REVIEW: Smonk by Tom Franklin


It's 1911 and the secluded southwestern Alabama town of Old Texas has been besieged by a scabrous and malevolent character called E. O. Smonk. Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty and goitered, Smonk is also an expert with explosives and knives. He abhors horses, goats and the Irish. Every Saturday night for a year he's been riding his mule into Old Texas, destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men&#8212all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over and under rifle. At last the desperate citizens of the town, themselves harboring a terrible secret, put Smonk on trial, with disastrous and shocking results. 

Thus begins the highly anticipated new novel from Tom Franklin, acclaimed author of Hell at the Breech and Poachers.

Smonk is also the story of Evavangeline, a fifteen-year-old prostitute quick to pull a trigger or cork. A case of mistaken identity plunges her into the wild sugarcane country between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, land suffering from the worst drought in a hundred years and plagued by rabies. Pursued by a posse of unlikely vigilantes, Evavangeline boats upriver and then wends through the dust and ruined crops, forced along the way to confront her own clouded past. She eventually stumbles upon Old Texas, where she is fated to E. O. Smonk and the townspeople in a way she could never imagine.

In turns hilarious, violent, bawdy and terrifying, Smonk creates its own category: It's a southern, not a western, peopled with corrupt judges and assassins, a cuckolded blacksmith, Christian deputies, widows, War veterans, whores, witches, madmen and zombies. By the time the smoke has cleared, the mystery of Smonk will be revealed, the survivors changed forever. 

  • ISBN-13: 9780061142772
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/6/2007
  • Pages: 272

About the Author
from Goodreads

Tom Franklin was born and raised in Dickinson, Alabama. He held various jobs as a struggling writer living in South Alabama, including working as a heavy-equipment operator in a grit factory, a construction inspector in a chemical plant and a clerk in a hospital morgue. In 1997 he received his MFA from the University of Arkansas. His first book, Poachers was named as a Best First Book of Fiction by Esquire and Franklin received a 1999 Edgar Award for the title story. Franklin has published two novels: Hell at the Breech, published in 2003 and Smonk published in 2006. The recipient of the 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship, Franklin now teaches in the University of Mississippi's MFA program and lives in Oxford, Mississippi with his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, and their children.

Find the author on Goodreads

My Thoughts

It was the eve of the eve of his death by murder and there was harmonica music on the air when E.O. Smonk rode the disputed mule over the railroad tracks and up the hill to the hotel where his trial would be.

Old Texas, Alabama

I learned of this book from author Alden Bell when reading an interview with him for my review of his book The Reapers are the Angels. He listed Smonk as one of his favorite books, and I said at that time that after reading the synopsis for Smonk, I could see where he got his inspiration for his character Temple in The Reapers are the Angels.

This book is a rip-roaring ride! I had mentioned to my friends early on that this book was the most vile and obscene book I’d ever read, and yet the most entertaining. The author is unapologetic in his approach, seeming to set aside all sensibilities and censor. Brash and unadulterated, this story is totally in your face, almost daring you to be offended.
The widows fired and fired and fired and fired until the final cartridge hull clattered to a stop on the wagon floor and what was left of the judge resembled a steaming mass of afterbirth, blue and dripping. The silence of the world shocked them all. (p. 95)
Smonk is portrayed as a pretty despicable character, and is easily disliked from the beginning.
I heard he killed his own momma, he said.

For starters, said the other. (p. 8)
Evavangeline, on the other hand, while tough and unforgiving, and a 14-year-old prostitute on the run, is portrayed with a certain vulnerability. I found myself hoping for her redemption.
She tipped out the blood and prized free a gold molar with her knife and let him go and when he fell his head bled across the bunk like a can of paint overturned. She stepped back reloading. The gunpowder at such range had burned the web of skin between her thumb and forefinger. The Gramophone’s needle had been knocked ajar and she set it back and then, for a moment of her life, as smoke curled in the air, she listened to strings of Handel. (page 23)
The cover is as fascinating as the book was, and can’t really be described. The silhouette of a mean looking outlaw in front of a rundown town straight out of the wild west. The rain, the orange moon, the skeletal canine formed out of willowy smoke. Fascinating!

As for the writing style, I like the shorter paragraphs. One thing I did have difficulty with was the lack of quotations used in dialogue, initially making it difficult to tell the conversations apart from the narration. But I got used to this pretty quickly, so it didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

This is my first book by Tom Franklin, and I look forward to reading more of his work. I think Hell at the Breach may be next on my list.

Final word: Pick up this book, sit back with a drink, cover your ears and brace your sensibilities. You’re in for the ride of a lifetime!

My Rating: 9.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Ann Summerville said...

Great review. The excerpts are enticing.