Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Smonk, by Tom Franklin
Reviewing a book prominently that came out several years ago? Why the hell not? Especially if it’s a book as remarkable as Smonk.
This was the first Tom Franklin I’ve read, and upon finishing it my first thought was “holy Christ, so THAT’S how it’s done. THAT’s how you mix the blackest of black humor, crazy action, bizarre-o characters, and some of the vilest and disgusting scenarios together in one nuthouse package.” Okay, I didn’t think ALL of that at once, but that’s what it comes down to.
Smonk is, nominally, a Western, in that it takes place in the wild days of the American frontier, but to call it simply a Western doesn’t really do it justice. In fact, it doesn’t even take place in the West—the small town of Old Texas, Alabama is the setting. This town is a creepy Southern Gothic nightmare, a cesspool of burning dog carcasses and dank water. Into this town comes gouty, cankerous, one-eyed E.O. Smonk, raising hell, beating up the men, seducing the women, and wreaking general havoc. The citizens decide they have enough of the old bastard, and so set up an ambush—but Smonk is as wily as he is vile, and turns the tables.
Meanwhile (to use a scene-changing stand-by that Franklin employs often)….
A teenage whore named Evavangeline is on the run from the foppish Captain Walton and his mutinous band of Christian Deputies. She experiences an ever-increasingly weird series of encounters that ultimately takes her to the town of Old Texas, where some dark, dark secrets await to be uncovered… and right into the path of E.O. Smonk’s deadly plans for the town.
There are scenes in this book that will make your stomach turn. But, as vile as Franklin’s imagination is, all the gross stuff is delivered with such rare humor and dead-pan language that you can’t help but laugh.
Do I sound like I’m gushing a little? Well, so be it. Smonk is by far the most original, entertainingly strange novel I’ve read in a long time.