Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Smonk, by Tom Franklin

(hb; 2006)

From the inside flap:

"It's 1911 and the secluded southwestern Alabama town of Old Texas has been besieged by by a scabrous and malevolent character called E.O. Smonk. Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty and goitered, Smonk is also an expert with explosives and knives. He abhors horses, goats and the Irish. Every Saturday night for a year he's been riding his mule into Old Texas, destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men -- all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over and under rifle. At last the desperate citizens of the town, themselves harboring a terrible secret, put Smonk on trial, with disastrous and shocking results.

"Smonk is also the story of Evavangeline, a fifteen-year old prostitute quick to pull the trigger or a cork. A case of mistaken identity plunges her into the wild sugarcane country between the Alabama and the Tombigree rivers, land suffering from the worst drought in a hundred years and plagued by rabies. Pursued by a posse of unlikely vigilantes, Evavangeline boats upriver and then wends through the dust and ruined crops, forced along the way to confront her own clouded past. She eventually stumbles into Old Texas, where she is fated to E.O. Smonk and the townspeople in a way she could never imagine..."


Smonk is a perverse, bleak-humored, and violently bloody romp through the Old South where few are virtuous, even children. Its structure, tone, plot and characters are iconclastic, shattering whatever noble stereotypes Western readers have been weaned on, and I enjoyed every filthy minute of the novel, given the sleazy cleverness that Franklin has laid out before his readers.

Too bad director Sam Peckinpah died in 1984, because I saw this as the perfect vehicle for his cinematic pathos: ballistic, raw and tender as he could be. I also imagined Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Sizemore being cast in this dream-film, and a few other actors who specialize in playing f***ed-up characters. (Appropriately enough, there's a scene that pays homage to Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, revolving around the question of whether or not to bury someone.)

If you're a fan of Westerns -- particularly the cable show Deadwood -- you should pick this sucker up. It's inspiring (in a strange way), damn near impossible to put down, and not easily forgotten.

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