Frank Bill has caused quite a stir with his debut collection, Crimes in Southern Indiana, getting himself compared to heavy hitters like Woodrell, McCarthy, and Steinbeck. Open the book to any story in the collection at random and you’ll immediately understand why.
Populated by people who make their living the best way they know how, often in unsavory ways, people with names like Scoot and Pitchfork and Pine Box, Frank Bill’s Southern Indiana is bleak. Bleak, but not without dignity.
The people in Frank Bill’s world live by their own moral code, a unique perspective on “right” and “wrong” forged through decades of poverty and disillusion and hopelessness. They’re people you won’t necessarily like, though will probably still respect, but you’ll damn sure remember.
And amongst a collection brimming with headliners, there were nevertheless still a few that were particularly memorable, no mean feat in a collection of stories that are the literary equivalent of a bar full of Hells Angels.
“Old Testament Wisdom” is a good old-fashioned tale of retribution that brings to mind both the Hatfield–McCoy feud and the notion that revenge is a dish best served cold.
“The Old Mechanic” manages in sixteen exquisite pages to transform a monstrous wife-beater into a war-weary grandfather trying to impart his wisdom to a grandson torn between hatred and forgiveness.
Unfolding as the title character’s reflection on a life that has taken him from bliss to tragedy to the door of a rural police station in search of redemption, “The Penance of Scoot McCutchen” demonstrates how an author at the top of his game can make a fourteen page short story seem epic.
And then there’s “The Need.” At first seemingly just another good ol’ boy on the run from the local cops story, “The Need” quickly evolves into a gut-wrenching exploration of the horrors of war and the devastating and indelible effects they can have on a man. So taken with the story was I that when Frank Bill agreed to write a guest post for my blog “The Need” is the story I asked him to address, which he graciously did.
Though every story in the collection is a work of art unto itself, together they comprise a truly breathtaking piece of work. Make no mistake about it, Crimes in Southern Indiana is big time writing, and Frank Bill is a talent to be reckoned with.
Crimes in Southern Indiana is available from Farrar, Straus & Giroux [ISBN: 978-0374532888].