Book Review: CITRUS COUNTY by John Brandon

Good fiction has the ring of truth. It is believable, plausible, and enjoyable, even the ugly bits. But great fiction is true. And Citrus County, with its extraordinarily ordinary characters, no frills prose, and stuck-in-second-gear pace is great fiction.

The narrative follows (shadows might be a better word) three characters: Toby and Shelby, two middle school students, and Mr. Hibma, one of their teachers. Early on, Shelby is infatuated with Toby, a boy who is something more than your run-of-the-mill trouble-maker, and once the two become girlfriend and boyfriend, Toby kidnaps Shelby’s little sister and holds her in a secluded bunker. No one, including the very astute Shelby, can figure who took the little sister or where she is.  No one can understand why it happened, least of all Toby.  Toby keeps the little girl alive, feeding her, clothing her, and the passages where he struggles with stopping her care and simply letting her die are heart-wrenching and oddly fascinating.

But ultimately, the plot is secondary. The real genius in these pages is in the characterization. All three narrators–Toby, Shelby, and Mr. Hibma–are flawed, lost individuals struggling to find meaning in anything. Of the three, Shelby is by leaps and bounds the most sympathetic and the most mature and self-effacing.  But the reason I kept turning pages in this one wasn’t the linguistic pyrotechnics, or the fast-paced plot (spoiler alert: this one moves at a plodding pace). No, the reason I fell under this particular writer’s spell was the voice.  Each character’s thoughts and actions were relayed simply and nakedly at every turn, and I had no choice but to accept, and, in the end, care about every character. Hell, by the end they weren’t characters; they were real people- -people I cared about, and that is a major testament to the writer.

Book Review of THE COVE by Ron Rash

This books has it all. Elegant sentences filled with precise descriptions. A strong sense of place–the mountains in western North Carolina, specifically. Three-dimensional characters, all of them, even the dislikable ones, are still sympathetic. Because of the shifting narration, the reader gets to really know, understand, and care about every one of the main characters, and that in and of itself is a feat. But the story is solid, a slow-burning narrative that crackles with tension and suspense and, best of all, hope. No spoilers here, but like pretty much all of Rash’s stories, this one ends badly. However, I highly recommend this book. . .and anything else that this greatest of writers (not just Southern writers) has put out there. Read him for his master storytelling. Read him for his heartbreakingly realistic and flawed characters. Read him for the pure joy of his voice and skill with language. Just read him. And now.