By Tom Franklin
So, it has been a bit of a rough couple of weeks—holidays are looming and my company has some restructuring coming up—but I will say that Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a good book to help you get some perspective on life.
I am stressed about getting all my work and Christmas shopping down, but I am not a poor black boy or a painfully shy white nerd trying to get by as an outsider in the deep South…Oh, wait. I was a painfully shy white nerd in Texas only about 10 years after this book takes place. (Although Austin, though less liberal then than it is now, was still a damn sight more liberal than rural Mississippi, and the mid-90s were just generally more liberal than the mid-80s, so it’s a bit of a cheap comparison.)
Still, there were several details that did actually remind me of my own adolescence. Very minor spoilers follow:
The black boy, Silas, and his mother move from Chicago to rural Mississippi, and Silas gets in trouble for failing to call adults “ma’am” and “sir.” I remember having the same misunderstanding, and being considered an uppity Northerner (though without the overt racism). I didn’t even realize I was remembering my own experiences adjusting from Boston to Austin until I was thinking about Silas, “poor kid, I wish I could take him aside and explain that if you start calling everyone ma’am and sir, it meant you never had to bother learning their names.”
Anyway, my reminiscences aside, it is a well crafted mystery but one where the plot is secondary, really just a framework to discuss the fox-and-the-hound type friendship. In fact, the author often lets the reader into the secrets of the mystery before the characters, but it still remains a very gripping mystery, maybe even because of that.
There’s another, harder-to-describe theme of how people do terrible things, but life goes on and you forgive those people because what else are you going to do? You forgive other people so you can also forgive yourself. It is melancholy a lot of the time, but not heartbreaking, and even a little hopeful.