I am a major fan of Cormac McCarthy, the master of Southern Gothic, and after discovering Kentucky's Chris Offutt, I decided that I finally needed to read Larry Brown, grit lit author extraordinaire from - wait for it! - Oxford, Mississippi, home of William Faulkner. In "Fay", a 17-year-old girl flees from her family, where she suffered neglect, abuse, and poverty, and decides to cross the state of Mississippi in order to get to the coastal town of Biloxi and make a new life for herself. At the start of her journey, Fay has two dollars and a pack of cigarettes to her name, so she has to rely on the kindness of strangers - and not all of them have pure intentions when they encounter a naive young girl who knows almost nothing about the world at the side of the road. But while Fay certainly lacks experience and an education, she is clever and resourceful, so there are quite some men who will soon find out that they are mistaken when they think they can take advantage of or dominate her. At the end, three men and one woman are dead.
Brown shines when he describes the rough reality of those who are generally referred to as "white trash": Young, poor women who were exploited and then abandoned; alcoholic mothers trapped in abusive relationships; bouncers and barkeepers in sleazy stripclubs; and again and again alcoholics as well as men and women who have stopped expecting anything from their lives. Although this book clearly isn't a comment on current politics (it was first published in 2010), I couldn't help but wonder whether many of these characters - living by a dog-eat-dog mentality, with no social security, no health care, no child services in sight and no mandatory schooling - would be part of Trump's infamous "base".
The fascinating center of the text is clearly Fay who tries to navigate a world that is unknown to her, and as the events that start to unfold during her journey slowly pick up speed, the text gets seriously addictive - this tome is a fast read. It also shows that Brown worked as a firefighter (one of the characters is a highway cop who is again and again called to gruesome accidents where people have died), and that he himself drank a lot and spent quite some time listening to guys hanging out in creepy bars - the characters in this novel feel unsettlingly real.
Kudos to Heyne for being the first publisher to put out a German translation of the book 17 years after its initial publication - I'm looking forward to reading more Larry Brown.