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Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin Worst first date ever. Poor Larry Ott, the bookish kid, the weak one, a smallish white boy, the bully-target at school, takes out the girl of his dreams, returns home alone, and gets blamed for her presumed rape and murder. Decades later, ostracized by the town, living alone in the same house he grew up in, tending his late, abusive father’s garage, another girl goes missing and all fingers point his way. Did he or didn’t he?

But Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter tells of two twisted lives. As a kid, Silas came to town when his mother, Alice, had to flee a bad situation in Chicago. He and Larry became friends. But after high school, black baseball-star Silas left for college, then stayed away until decades later when he returns, joining the local police department. Why?

The book takes us back and forth between the present day, the investigation into the latest disappearance, and the story of Silas and Larry’s ill-fated friendship.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a tale of black and white told in shades of gray. Franklin's main characters display human strengths and weaknesses. He shows the racial environment and tension in 1970s Mississippi, reduced, but still far from dissipated today. We see that people act on what they believe rather than on what they know. Where does purity lie? Truth? Atonement? Forgiveness? Although Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter offers a piercing account of life in rural Mississippi it holds resonance beyond the time and place. The sort of people who find Larry peculiar because he reads are the same ones who deny evolution, global warming or the holocaust.

The atmosphere of the place is very nicely drawn as history seeps from the past into the present in forms physical as well as psychic. Too much looks the same as it did way back when, only more eroded.

Franklin drew a lot on his own childhood. Like Larry, his father was a mechanic; he lived on the outskirts of a small southern town; he was a bookish kid in a place where that was not a good thing to be; he was a loner. And while he was not so ostracized in real life as his stand-in is in his novel, he knows of what he speaks. Tom Franklin has written a very moving tale about being an outsider. You will feel for Larry.

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter has received a flood of critical approval. And there is a lot to like here, engaging characters, a good depiction of place and time, powerful imagery in the form of serpents and masks. It seems like a sure thing. And I did enjoy the book. But the straight dope is that it did not do for me what it seems to have done for some other readers. Franklin is clearly a very good writer, but is hardly the second coming of Faulkner. Read, and enjoy, but keep your expectations grounded and you will not be disappointed.