Saturday, December 31, 2011
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin
The title refers to a ditty used to teach Southern children how to spell Mississippi: M - I - crooked letter, crooked letter - I - crooked letter, crooked letter...
It's a story that had to happen in Mississippi or a similar southern state.
Two boys, growing up in the 70s, one black, one white, become friends. But secret friends, because such a friendship was not acceptable then. The two meet under curious circumstances and ultimately find they are connected by more than geography.
Larry Ott, the white boy, is a quiet bookish boy who is thrilled when the neighbor girl asks if he wants to take her to a drive-in. The date does not go as planned and the next day the town is out looking for the girl. Suspicion centers on Larry because he was the last one to see her. For years he carries around this suspicion and his future is changed forever.
Meanwhile, a thoughtless comment by Larry pushes his friend Silas away. The two grow up and get on with their lives, separately. Until another incident pushes the two together and at least some of the mystery of years before is solved.
It's a beautifully-written story that goes back and forth from the past to the present, letting the tension build slowly and the characters develop. To me it feels very real and very sad.