Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. The Bondurant Boys were a notorious gang of roughnecks and moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition and in the years after. Forrest, the eldest brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; Howard, the middle brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; and Jack, the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin. Driven and haunted, these men forge a business, fall in love, and struggle to stay afloat as they watch their family die, their father's business fail, and the world they know crumble beneath the Depression and drought.
White mule, white lightning, firewater, popskull, wild cat, stump whiskey, or rotgut -- whatever you called it, Franklin County was awash in moonshine in the 1920s. When Sherwood Anderson, the journalist and author of Winesburg, Ohio, was covering a story there, he christened it the "wettest county in the world." In the twilight of his career, Anderson finds himself driving along dusty red roads trying to find the Bondurant brothers, piece together the clues linking them to "The Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy," and break open the silence that shrouds Franklin County.
In vivid, muscular prose, Matt Bondurant brings these men -- their dark deeds, their long silences, their deep desires -- to life. His understanding of the passion, violence, and desperation at the center of this world is both heartbreaking and magnificent.
This fictionalized tale of Depression-era bootlegging from Bondurant (The Third Translation) enlists the help of Winesburg, Ohio author Sherwood Anderson to investigate Bondurant family lore. In 1928, a pair of thieves accost Bondurant's real life great-uncle Forrest at his Franklin County, Va., restaurant. They're after a large cache of bootlegging money and end up cutting Forrest's throat. The story of his survival and his trek to a hospital 12 miles away has taken on mythical proportions by the time Sherwood Anderson arrives in Franklin County in 1934 to research a magazine piece on the area's prolific moonshiners. Soon after Anderson's arrival, two anonymous men appear at the same hospital, one with legs meticulously shattered from ankle to hip, the other one castrated, with the by-products of the deed deposited in a jar of moonshine. The arc of the story lies between the attack on Forrest and that on the two men. Bondurant endows his gritty story with all the puzzle-solving satisfactions of a mystery. It's a gripping, relentless tale, delivered in no-nonsense prose. (Oct.) ""
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
October 11, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant
The brindled sow stood in the corner, glowering at the boy. Jack Bondurant hefted a bolt-action .22 rifle with a deep blue octagon barrel, the stock chewed and splintered from brush and river-stone. He chambered a round, walked over to the sow and put the end of the barrel about a foot from a pink eye and squeezed the trigger. Across the yard his father and brother were tamping damp earth in the tobacco pit under the barn.
There was a crack and a slanting spray of blood and the great bulk of the sow shivered, the rifle falling into the muck, Jack leaping over the rails of the pen as the sow charged, a smear of blood on her forehead and a patch of glistening bone. The sow trotted around the pen, then backed into the corner. Jack retrieved his rifle through the boards, scrubbing off the muck with his shirtsleeve. He spat and worked the bolt action and reentered the pen and kneeling down in front of the sow, sighted the barrel down the length of her snout. He hooked the trigger again, crack, and the sow reared up slightly on its stubby back legs. On her forehead there was another slice of chipped bone, the blood spreading darkly into the pink eye. The shoats in the next pen set up a braying squeal and horned their snouts between the boards, ears flattened. Jack chambered another round, placed the barrel against the sow's head and fired. The bullet burrowed under the skin of her skull like a tunneling rodent, pulling back rippled folds over her eye. Jack squatted, watching the old sow pick herself up and circle on unsteady legs. He gripped the hacked stock of the rifle and rocked slowly on his heels, his feet burning in his boots. He squeezed his eyes and stifled a sob that erupted from his stomach.
When Jack looked up his older brother Forrest was there in the pen. A lean teenager with a permanent smirk, his blond hair dusted with red dirt from the tobacco pit, Forrest straddled the sow and sat down on her back, pulling her snout high with his forearm. As the sow's back arched the white folded flesh of her neck stretched tight. Reaching around with the other hand Forrest brought a long boning knife across her throat in a short rip of skin and metal. The blood came in a hot gush on the muddy straw and the sow's whine bubbled, the jet of lung air spraying from the open neck. Her body quivered and then went limp in Forrest's hands, tiny front legs dangling, body bent like a dead fish.
The next moment their father was there with the heavy chain and they used the tackle to hoist the carcass up to drain, Jack's father setting a metal bucket under the swaying body. Hot blood smoked in the calcified winter air. Jack crouched on the ground like a muddy toad, cradling the rifle and watching the stream of crimson like liquid fire. He was eight years old.
That next summer the Spanish Lady Flu epidemic swept through the southeastern states, finding its way into the deepest hollows and mountain ridges of Franklin County. The county went into self-imposed quarantine. Generations of families had known the ancient periodical ravages of sweeping illness like diphtheria, influenza, smallpox, and the certain knowledge of death's deliberate visitation ground all activity to a standstill as families huddled together in their homes. Jack's father, Granville Bondurant, closed up his vacant general store, itinerant mendicants and blasted road-men his only occasional customers. Families relied on the saved stores of food stockpiled in root cellars, cool springhouses. The Brodies who lived across the broad hill stopped coming down the dirt road by the house, as did the Deshazos, a black family that lived a half mile off. The pews of Snow Creek Baptist Church stood cockeyed empty and hooded crows roosted in the crude lectern.
The Bondurant family was prepared with plenty of dry goods from the store and Jack's mother had enough canned vegetables and meat to last them through the fall and winter. The family stayed close to the farm. It was a glorious time for Jack because it meant his older sisters Belva May and Era and his brother Forrest were around all the time, hanging about the house in the mornings, spending the long afternoon and evening in the family room by the stove. In those days Jack's father was what men called a cut-up, a man who grinned brightly through his thick beard in the evenings when his children rode his bouncing knee like a bucking horse or when he stood by the hot stove with other men at the store, quick with a wisecrack, his short white apron clean and starched. He didn't drink liquor, went to church regular, and still laughed a dozen times a day.
Forrest had a secondhand bicycle and in the afternoons Jack chased his brother down the wide field in front of the house, along the crumbling banks of the creek, laughing in the golden afternoons, the fields of purple clover at sunset, a haze of velvet across the rolling hills.