City Paper is not for tourists
You have to go back to William Faulkner’s novels about the Snopes clan to find the kind of cold-blooded Southern amorality that drives Matt Bondurant’s second novel, The Wettest County in the World. Based on the lives of Bondurant’s grandfather Jack and granduncles Forrest and Howard, the story is set in Prohibition-era southern Virginia, where the three brothers manage a thriving moonshine trade. The business doesn’t get scrutinized too closely by the authorities because it “kept Franklin County relatively solvent and livable. And because they were afraid.” With good reason: Early on Bondurant describes, in gruesome detail, Forrest getting his throat slashed, a moment that’s all the more fearsome because he survived it. Bondurant’s prose is thick with the kind of blood-soaked descriptions that would do Cormac McCarthy proud; halfway through, he need only invoke the words “table saw” to make you go pale. Yet Bondurant is too thoughtful and observant a writer to make this simply a redneck Grand Guignol, and the story gets some perspective and literary heft from its fictionalization of novelist Sherwood Anderson, who visited the region in the mid-’30s in the hopes of reviving his fading reputation. In an afterword, Bondurant explains the pains he went to to get the facts straight, but Forrest’s horrid scar is doing the metaphorical work that all good fiction does, gaining resonance with every near-miss that he survives: When your entire life is based on a theory that you’re indestructible, what else can you do but test it? MATT BONDURANT DISCUSSES AND SIGNS COPIES OF HIS WORK AT 1 P.M. SATURDAY, OCT. 25, AT POLITICS AND PROSE, 5015 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919.