All roads lead to the Donnybrook

We got no jobs, no money, no power, no nothin’, nothin’ to live for ‘cept vice and indulgence. That’s how they control us. But it’s falling apart. What we got is our land and our machines, our families and our ability to protect it all, to keep them alive. We got our hands. Ones who’ll survive will be the ones can live from the land. Can wield a gun. Those folks’ll fight for what little they’ve got. They’ll surprise the criminals with their own savagery.
~ Donnybrook: A Novel, Frank Bill.

donnybrookDonnybrook: A Novel ★★★★★
Frank Bill
FSG Originals, 2013
Available Now

I was already familiar with Frank Bill’s writing after surviving a close encounter with his debut — the short story collection Crimes In Southern Indiana. Upon finishing those stories, my only thought was: “Jesus Christ, this man is a lunatic” — and then immediately, “I want more!” For sure the stories are raw and unpolished, and perhaps a little too overeager to tell rather than show, but there is also an urgency, a ferocity to the writing that refuses to be ignored. It’s so in your face that at times it feels like an assault. I loved it!

So you can bet when I heard this guy was about to publish his first novel I became very afraid, and very, very obsessed with getting my hands on it to read it.

Usually my eyes tend to glaze over and ignore most book blurbs because they always seem so generic and at their worst, sycophantic. But at their best, book blurbs can capture in a few short phrases the very tail of the beast itself and show you its face. As much as I loathe the majority, there are some that do their job so well, they deserve to be recognized along with the book they’re blurbing. I only say this now to emphasize that Bill has attracted the attention of authors I love and respect and if you’re not going to listen to me when I say this guy’s the real deal, then maybe you’ll listen to them:

Donnybrook is vivid in its violence, grim in its grimness. It reams the English language with a broken beer bottle and lets the blood drops tell the story. — Daniel Woodrell, (Winter’s Bone)

With action like a belt across the face and vivid prose like a stroke up the neck, Frank Bill’s astonishing novel…renders you punch-drunk. Here’s the writer to watch: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Megan Abbott, (Dare Me)

I also like this one by Bonnie Jo Campbell: “Don’t poke this book with a stick or you’ll make it angry.” And trust me — you won’t like this book when it’s angry. Goodreads friend Jacob writes in his review:

something this good should be illegal, because the act of hunting down a banned copy and hiding from the censors and morality police to read it is the only goddamn way it could get any better. Donnybrook is a relentless, no-holds-barred, total fucking mind-fuck of endless violence…

Frank Bill (author)

Frank Bill (author)

Yeah, like that. But now you’re looking at me tapping your foot impatiently saying: “Yeah, but what the hell is this book about?” I could give you the plot summary lowdown — about bare-knuckle fighting in the backwoods of Southern Indiana, about desperate family man Jarhead Johnny Earl who’s going to steal a thousand dollars to cover the entry fee into the infamous annual Donnybrook tournament.

Then there’s meth-making brother and sister Angus (nickname Chainsaw) and Liz who put the F.U.N. in family dysfunction. They’ve just lost their last batch of dope and are determined to recoup their losses, no matter who gets in their way, even if it means each other. Like any great rural crime story, you’ve got the steely, determined deputy Sheriff following a trail of dead bodies into a trap he has no idea lays in wait for him. Last but not least, there’s Chinese “collection agent” Fu, who’s about as badass a dude as you’re ever going to meet. He is awesome.

This mad, manic mélange of murderers, misfits and miscreants will eventually descend upon the Donnybrook — a three day stint of brawling, booze and drugs run by a man named McGill, who makes the Governor from the Walking Dead comics look like Mr. Rogers. But it’s not about the final destination folks, but the journey to get there, and (to quote one of my favorite movie taglines ever): who will survive and what will be left of them. Reading this book I couldn’t help but be reminded of the lucid insanity of some of Tarantino’s best work — the ensemble characters, the multiple plot threads, and how it all comes crashing together in the end with defined, divine purpose. Hells yeah, people. This is the good shit. Heisenberg grade blue.

Frank Bill is a writer you want to watch. You can find out more about him at his blog House of Grit or follow him on Twitter @HouseofGrit. And as my mama always told me — never trust a man with two first names.

This review also appears at Shelf Inflicted.

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  1. Going up the country – the rise of rural lit (and why you need to be reading it) | Busty Book Bimbo

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