I was talking to a friend the other day about books and authors and the name Larry Brown came up. I hadn’t thought about Larry Brown in a long time — and I should. In fact anyone who loves Southern fiction that’s spare and true ought to think about Larry Brown every day.
Brown, who died of a heart attack at age 53 in 2004, left Mississippi with lots more to accomplish and a good deal of unfulfilled promise. He was a late starter, a literary force of nature and he was taken too quickly. “The Rabbit Factory” is the last Brown book I read, back in 2008 while on vacation in Nags Head. But I think it’s time to revisit a few others in my library — starting with the book that began my irrestitable attraction to his work, “Big Bad Love.”
The Rabbit Factory, By Larry Brown, Touchstone, 339 pages.
The late Larry Brown emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s as one of the finest Southern novelists of the past two decades. No one, not even the esttimable Harry Crews, writes about chain-smoking, beer-drinking, hard-scrabble southerners quite the Larry Brown used to.
Brown, a firefighter who became a writer because he really had no other choice, announced as much with a collection of short stories called “Big Bad Love” in the 1980s. The tales captured the ultimate truths and often sad choices that men and women in rural Mississippi face daily. He followed that with the novels “Joe” and “Dirty Work” are modern classics about relationships, moral bankruptcy and the wages of war. Often wrongly compared to fellow Mississippian William Faulkner, Brown’s great achievement were stories told directly with simple prose.
“Rabbit Factory,” published after Brown’s death in 2004, continues down that path but also appears to be Brown’s great effort to leave a lasting legacy in Southern fiction.
Using an all-too-common plot device of interwoven tales, Brown concocts a strange campfire stew of ner’do-wells, sad crooks, dreamers, drifters, drinkers and those with uncomplicated minds suddenly thrust into situations where complicated issues must be resolved — and quickly.
At least three storylines might be able to stand alone as novellas or short stories. But strewn together as a ragged tapestry there are too many holes.
As always, though, Brown delivers quality writing and characters that can’t be ignored. A few might even gnaw at the back of your brain for a spell.
Other fiction by Larry Brown
Big Bad Love
Facing the Music
Billy Ray’s Farm