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Country Dark

Review

Country Dark

There are very few things that are worth waiting for, especially when the timeframe is nearly two decades. Let us add new fiction from author Chris Offutt to that short list. Offutt, whose more recent offerings have been finely written memoirs, has favored us with a full-length novel, the depth and width of which are far greater than its relatively modest (231) pages.

COUNTRY DARK is set in Kentucky and focuses on Tucker, who, when we meet him in 1954, is returning to his family home as a veteran of the Korean War. Having lied about his age at the time of his enlistment and seen rough combat, a barely 18-year-old Tucker is endowed with a rough wisdom that is far beyond his years, even as his actions seem impulsive at times. His journey home to the “dirt” side of the Kentucky divide of “dirt” and “blacktop” is most notably marked by his rescue of a young woman named Rhonda, who he quickly marries.

"This is one of those books that reminds us why we constantly read, which is the hope of discovering a work such as this that succeeds on all imaginable levels as well as a few unexpected ones."

The narrative jumps ahead one decade to find Tucker and Rhonda, neither of whom have  turned 30 yet, the parents of five young children. Offutt shows a heart-rending economy where everything seems to be in short supply with the exception of poverty and bad luck. Tucker and Rhonda have it better than most in some ways, given Tucker’s job as a moonshine runner out of state, but are disadvantaged in others. However, when the precarious balance in which they live is threatened, Tucker acts in a manner that will have consequences that ripple through the future. He still does what he must to protect his family, demonstrating that he will do even the unpalatable as part of a devil’s bargain that is intended to secure his future financially, if only on a short-term basis.

When things do not go as planned, though, Tucker finds his world changed and the deal altered. He is forced to choose between the safe path of keeping things as they presently are, or forcing the issue and achieving great reward at an even greater risk. Tucker will face violence, betrayal and the loss of everything that has sustained him. He really has no choice.

COUNTRY DARK is exquisitely plotted and wonderfully told, a life story that highlights a few pivots and a couple of decisions --- good, bad and mixed --- that ripple forward in time and across other lives. One gets the sense that the events described here occurred either within one life or across a series of unfortunate souls. The dark shine of the book, though, is Offutt’s rich and authentic dialogue that is full of metaphors and colloquialisms that readers will find themselves remembering and using in their own conversations.

This is one of those books that reminds us why we constantly read, which is the hope of discovering a work such as this that succeeds on all imaginable levels as well as a few unexpected ones. I cannot give a higher compliment or recommendation than that.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 13, 2018

Country Dark
by Chris Offutt

  • Publication Date: April 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802127797
  • ISBN-13: 9780802127792