Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Trip to the Library. Tom Franklin, "Poachers" (1999)

Having whet my appetite for Southern Literature, I went to the Carnegie Library main branch in Oakland for some reading material. With a new baby in the house, I figured I'd try to find ways to save money. I used to frequent the library a lot more than I have in the last couple of years. When I started exploring the world of graphic novels and comics, I decided that I didn't want to spend an inordinate amount of money just trying to familiarize myself with what was available. At the library I could find out which ones should be in my collection, and maximize my resources. I'd stumble out with arm-loads of stuff. I discovered plenty that was worthwhile, and a fair amount that made me thankful I had merely borrowed them.

On this trip I wanted to concentrate on finding novels written by authors I had either read previously, or had learned about through Amazon. I had to make a stop in the 'graphic novel' section first. I've been receiving 'snail-mail' notices that I owe money for a comic I took out two years ago. The few times I've gone to the Carnegie recently, I've always made a point of locating that particular item on the shelf (no one ever borrows it) and showing it to the desk clerk nearby. Invariably I am told by staff that I actually owe nothing at all, and shouldn't be receiving those notices. It's a bit of a hassle, but I'm never actually kept from grabbing more books, so I don't complain too much. Believe me, if I owed for the thing I'd simply pay the fine and be done with it.

Anyway I did find a few choice items with pictures, and then made my way into the low-ceilinged concrete rooms in the back. This is where they keep the fiction, jammed together and lit with God's awesome fluorescence. Overwhelmed by the claustrophobic atmosphere and the quantity of books, I tried to recall the name of an author I was interested in. After a few minutes I settled down, and was able to concentrate. I chose writers who I associated with the Southern Tradition- George Saunders, Charles Portis, George Singleton, Harry Crews, and Tom Franklin. I didn't really think that I could read all 9 or 10 books within the initial three-week lending period, and so I planned to renew whatever was left by accessing the Carnegie site on the internet.

I started in on the stuff this past week. I read the A.M. Homes book that I reviewed earlier. I went through a collection of Singleton's stories that lacked focus, and failed to match the expectations I had formed based upon previous readings of his work. And I followed that up with Franklin's Poachers (1999). Tom Franklin was born in the small town of Dickinson, Alabama and received an MFA from the University of Arkansas. He currently teaches at the University of Mississippi. His short stories reflect the untamed interior landscapes of the Deep South. In his introduction to Poachers , Franklin sheds light on his upbringing with tales of his nascent hunting career. To hear him tell it, it was an activity that he felt pressured to engage in to prove his manhood. But whatever nostalgia he has for hunting is tinged with gore and self-doubt.

However the three brothers featured in the eponymously-titled story of Poachers take to the wilderness with such natural aplomb that it is impossible for them to function in polite society. They are teenage orphans, who rely on their deep knowledge of the swamps and woods to sustain them. They have very little contact with any of their own species, and would be perfectly happy if it were to remain so. But after a run-in with a new game warden, they are inevitably targeted as transgressors. Their confrontation with a shadowy vigilante is brutally savage, yet deftly told. Franklin has a way of miring his readers in the kudzu-choked corners of his stories. There are plenty of grisly details and horrific consequences accompanying plaguing the author's gritty characters. Yet the humanity at their core is made undeniably present through Franklin's keen observations.

Fortunately I picked up another of Franklin's titles in Oakland the other day. When I finally make it through the Portis book, and some of the other dross I no doubt accumulated, it will be refreshing to return to the fierce places of this writer's fresh imagination.

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