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The Wettest County in the World by Matt…

The Wettest County in the World

by Matt Bondurant

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Showing 5 of 5
Man, this was so dark and so violent. Really not my cup of tea. When it worked though, it was like watching Bonnie and Clyde. When it didn't, it was a bit of a slog. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Historical fiction at its best! ( )
  witchyrichy | Oct 16, 2012 |
You would think that a prohibition era tale of bootleggers vs. corrupt law officers with a cover photo that will remind you of the classic Bonnie & Clyde poses in front of period automobiles would make for a compelling read, but I didn't find that to be the case with this book. I found this to be a very slow-going read due to a lack of momentum caused by the jumps in the time-line structure. This also resulted in a lack of suspense as a lot of the plot resolutions were also known ahead of time.
Matt Bondurant's "The Wettest County in the World" (aka "Lawless" in the July 2012 movie tie-in reprint edition) is a history-based fictional novel about the lives of the author's own grandfather Jack and his great-uncles Howard and Forrest Bondurant. It relates how the Bondurant brothers ran a bootleg liquor operation (which is called 'blockading' in the local vernacular of the book) in Jackson County, Virginia in the late 1920's/early 1930's. The book's title is based on a quote from writer Sherwood Anderson which is one of the novel's epigraphs: "... the wettest section in the U.S.A. …the spot that fairly dripped illicit liquor, and kept right on dripping it after prohibition ended…is Franklin County, Virginia."
This huge amount of illegal liquor production required a network of corrupt law officials and officers to keep it protected and some of that came to light in an eventual trial which was documented by T. Keister Greer in "The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935". Greer's book became a major source for author Bondurant's fictional tale along with his family's personal stories. Bondurant's book in turn became the source for Nick Cave's screenplay for the film "Lawless" directed by John Hillcoat which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012 and is scheduled for a general theatrical release in late August 2012.
The story is told in flashbacks from the time of the 1935 trial with writer Sherwood Anderson reporting on the scene on behalf of his own newspapers and also doing research for his later novel "Kit Brandon" which was built around the local myths of female blockader Willie Carter Sharpe (who was also perhaps the inventor of the American muscle car, due to her souped-up Fords used to outrun law officers). Anderson's history is portrayed reasonably accurately except for an error in his publisher's name (Liverright used instead Boni & Liveright) and Ernest Hemingway's 1926 "The Torrents of Spring" parody of Anderson's 1925 "Dark Laughter" mis-dated as if it was from 1934. The constant jumps back and forth between 1929-30 and 1935 took a lot of suspense and momentum out of the book though and made for difficult reading although each of the chapters by themselves were quite evocative in portraying the atmosphere of the Virginia Appalachian settings. ( )
  alanteder | Jun 5, 2012 |
This novel about three brothers who made and sold moonshine during the Prohibition era, may be set in the hills of southwestern Virginia, but it is very much a gangster story. It has as much in common with the great mobster tales as it does with any typical Southern literature. There are the family connections. The code of silence. The shady law enforcement officials. The strong, stoic women.

Early in the book, the youngest brother, Jack, is taken with the excitement of the moonshining life, but as he gets drawn in, he starts to see the dark side of running liquor. His brothers are the more jaded old hands, each with his own demons. The sections focusing on the emotional journeys of the brothers are the most compelling parts of the book. The trouble is that it took too long to get into their respective stories.

Instead of telling the story straightforwardly, the author’s frames the story with incidents from Sherwood Anderson’s trip to Franklin County. This seems like a brilliant stroke that shows that this industry was a big deal in its day and also demonstrates just how closed the community is to outsiders. But as it turns out, Anderson’s story is just one story too many. Whenever the book returns to Anderson, the core of the story, the three brothers, disappears from view. If Bondurant had dropped some of Anderson's literary musings and confined Anderson’s investigations to the start of each of the novel’s three sections, he might have gotten the benefits of using Anderson as an outside witness without making him a drag on the story.

As a Franklin County native, I took a particular pleasure in seeing many places I know mentioned and in recognizing many of the family names. There are a couple of geographic gaffes that probably only locals would notice or care about. I thought Bondurant did an excellent job overall with the diction, every now and then bringing in a phonetic spelling that isn’t exactly common but that gets the accent of the region just right. He also doesn’t overwhelm the reader with regional dialect.

I wish I could say I loved the book and could recommend it without reservations, but I can’t quite do that. The Anderson subplot is a serious problem, and the book only hits it stride when Anderson disappears for long stretches. I do love what Bondurant was trying to do, and I loved the parts where he succeeded. If rural Southern gangsters have any sort of appeal to you, this may just be worth checking out.

See my complete review at Shelf Love. ( )
1 vote teresakayep | Jan 1, 2011 |
Given to me by a friend who said, " I thought The Wettest County was an incredibly interesting idea for a book but horribly written. I had to liberally skim through to the end, so please send it out into the world. Altho I feel sorry for the poor schmo that picks it up."

A glowing recommendation, but seemingly prophetic as I had a hard time really getting into this book. I really thought I would like it, but where's Eric Larson when you need him?
  bookczuk | Jun 20, 2010 |
Showing 5 of 5
Bondurant is a nimble writer, especially when it comes to depicting gore and guts. His descriptions of the warped and wounded can leave a reader queasy, but the liveliness of his writing makes it hard for even the most lily-livered to look away.

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In one county (Franklin) it is claimed 99 people out of 100 are making, or have some connection with liquor. - Official Records of the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement 1935, VOl 4, p. 1075

What is the wettest section in the U.S.A., the place where during the prohibition and since, the most illicit liquor has been made? The extreme wet spot, per number of people, isn't NY or Chicago...the spot that fairly dripped illicit liquor, and kept right on dripping it after prohibition ended...is Franklin County, Virginia. Sherwood Anderson, Liberty magazine, 1935

Cruelty, like breadfruit and pineapples, is a product, I beliieve, of the South. Sherwood ANderson, A Story Teller's Story
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Based on 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. When Sherwood Anderson, the journalist and author of Winesburg, Ohio, was covering a story there he christened it the "wettest county in the world." Anderson finds himself driving along dusty red roads, piecing together the clues linking the brothers to "The Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy." and breaking 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 worlds is both heartbreaking and magnificent.

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Running moonshine liquor during the prohibition years, a notorious trio of brothers continues their illicit business after prohibition and play a central role in a violent conspiracy trial--a story that is investigated in 1935 by a magazine journalist.… (more)

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