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Joe (1991)

by Larry Brown

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4122051,300 (4.03)36
"Brilliant . . . Larry Brown has slapped his own fresh tattoo on the big right arm of Southern Lit." --The Washington Post Book World Now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage, directed by David Gordon Green. Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won't slow down--not in his pickup, not with a gun, and certainly not with women. Gary Jones estimates his own age to be about fifteen. Born luckless, he is the son of a hopeless, homeless wandering family, and he's desperate for a way out. When their paths cross, Joe offers him a chance just as his own chances have dwindled to almost nothing. Together they follow a twisting map to redemption--or ruin.… (more)
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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I must of read a different book than y'all did. The story was slow, with little happening, and an unsatisfying end. The characters were mostly uninteresting and underdeveloped, with occasional hints, and stereotypical: the men were all drunkards, and the women interesting mostly in companionship (or sex.) Male arguments were either resolved with guns, knives or fists. White trash. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
“In the countryside by nights without the moon, there sometimes roamed an indigent, a recycled reject with eyes sifting the darkness and sorting the scattered scents, walking beside deep hollows and ditches of stinking water. The hours he kept were usually reserved for the drunk and the sleeping. “

“She don’t like to be around anybody drinkin, don’t even like to smell it. I drink and I like to drink. That’s it.”

Joe Ransom is not an easy character to like- he is a hard-drinking ex-con, pushing 50, who refuses to slow down, despite being a diligent worker, with a good business sense. He is also a lousy father. You
will end up rootin' for him anyway. Set in a hot summer in Mississippi, be prepared for an excessive amount of drinking, pick-ups on dusty roads, along with bursts of alarming violence. The writing is excellent throughout. Southern-lit at it's best. Faulkner would be proud.
I was first introduced to Brown, with his story collection Tiny Love, which was incredible. Now, with this novel, he has found a place as a favorite author. ( )
  msf59 | Jul 7, 2021 |
The Publisher Says: Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won’t slow down—not in his pickup, not with a gun, and certainly not with women. Gary Jones estimates his own age to be about fifteen. Born luckless, he is the son of a hopeless, homeless wandering family, and he’s desperate for a way out. When their paths cross, Joe offers him a chance just as his own chances have dwindled to almost nothing. Together they follow a twisting map to redemption—or ruin.

Kirkus, back in 1991 when they hated everything, said this of the book: "...Brown...pares his prose close to the bone, stripping away the slightest hint of sociology or regional color. This is white trash, lumpen fiction with a vengeance, and a vision of angelic desolation."

My Review: Selected as the May 2020 Moderator's Choice in the On the Southern Literary Trail group, this is the novel that solidified Larry Brown's place in Grit Lit/Hick Lit's pantheon. He was a major talent; his short stories will, I think, be anthologized and lionized for a long time to come. He started out as a writer known for them; and I think that, like Hemingway, they will be his lasting contribution to Southern Literature's grittier edge.

This is not to denigrate or diminish his accomplishment in this, his most accessible novel:
The road lay long and black ahead of them and the heat was coming now through the thin soles of their shoes. There were young beans pushing up from the dry brown fields, tiny rows of green sprigs that stretched away in the distance.
You know where you are; you know who you're with; you're not going for a madeleine with Proust. This is poverty, this is heat, this is misery on an epic scale but never ever looked at...it's witnessed, it's so real and so present that there is just not one doubt about its honesty. Heat and poverty are characters in this scene so cinematically framed. The people are, in fact, incidental if not ornamental. They exist as morality-play embodiments of Poverty, and they continue to do so throughout the book.

Is that a flaw? Is honest appraisal and presentation of reality ever a flaw?
“That boy,” he said. “I’ve done him ever favor I could. Some folks you can’t do nothing with. Just sorry. God knows I’ve done plenty of drinking and stuff in my time, but I be damn if I ever tried to cheat anybody out of any money.”
Is that a speech delivered to make an author's point, or is it the vox populi, the distilled belief of the Average Man that he is in fact average, the proper measure of a man's worth? It's certainly a refutation of the three-hundred-year-old moralism vox populi, vox dei! There is no god in this book, there is no numinous or immanent quality to anything. The landscape is hot, dry, miserable; the people are dumb, violent, miserable; the vox regis or deorum is notable only for its absence.

Also notably absent here are women's voices. They exist to bear children and beatings. They are adversaries to what low, animal joys men can find in sex (more akin to rape, in my opinion) and beer. Children are the punishment women inflict on men (as men see it) for the fleeting pleasure of the rut. The idea of pleasure is, in general, absent from this world. It is a place where no one at all ever makes even a feint at a genuine smile.

What redeems this read from being a complete, utter, suicidal-depression-inducing downer? Joe Ransom. Drunken convict that he is, awful father he may be, but to Gary Jones he is Jesus freshly down from the cross. Gary's sperm donor is a memorable...a matchless, actually...portrait of the kind of person I, in my damned close to infinite privilege, have never interacted with. He pimps out his prepubescent daughter. He does nothing of value to anyone, not even himself:
“She don’t like to be around anybody drinkin, don’t even like to smell it. I drink and I like to drink. That’s it.”
That's the least-offensive thing the man utters in this book. Probably in the whole of life. His son, his who-knows-how decent and good-souled son, makes him feel more worthless than he already does; not, however, as worthless as he actually is.

Gary goes to work for Joe on a county work crew. Joe, ex-con bad dad Joe, shines like a savior to him, modeling the astounding heights of not-stealing, of not-beating while being a man. Gary's life changes because he sees a possibility he never saw before. As events unfold, that possibility is embodied in a redemptive act of startling generosity, of genuine salvation.

And Joe chooses to save, not his own flesh and blood, but someone whose life trajectory makes Joe's own fucked-up life look like my wealth and privilege by comparison. If not for Larry Brown, I doubt I'd've made a second's time for these men.

Isn't this what fiction's meant to do? To make us, all of us really but especially the most shockingly privileged among us, pause and allow The Other to take unsentimental shape in our emotions?

Larry Brown did this to me, for me, and I am deeply grateful to him for it. ( )
1 vote richardderus | Jun 29, 2021 |
4.5 Stars
Larry Brown always gave us gritty reality – a southern-baked, distilled variety of reality. And, “Joe” is another big dose. If you’re not up for riding around with Joe in his pickup while he guzzles vast amounts of whiskey and beer, you may want to put off reading “Joe” until you are. If you are not ready for heavy measures of the southern vernacular and watching degenerate alcoholics abuse all who love them and many others who do not, you may want to make a sunnier reading selection. On the other had if you are up for a taste of reality a la Larry Brown, get ready for another great bumpy ride through rural Mississippi. Oh, and you may want find your local Al-Anon meeting.
( )
  Chipa | Apr 2, 2021 |
I discovered Larry Brown a few weeks ago and I guess several years ago. I was cleaning out my bookshelves and found father and son. I had bought it several years ago. Perhaps because of the jacket blurbs, perhaps because of the sellers recommendation. I always buy more than I can read. Now age prompts me to begin setting my shelves in order. Fortunately the clutter of ebooks is easier to ignore. But from time to time I discovered old treasures. Larry Brown is one of those. I thank my younger self for the impulsive purchase.
What makes a book great or memorable? The ability of the author to express his or her insight into the world clearly and with great impact.
Larry Brown died of a heart attack while still very young. Perhaps the world was too much with him. Thankfully he left treasure behind.
There is no shining armor in this tale. But certainly armor is needed.
Joe has heart and Joe has character. He is deeply flawed as well. Perhaps that makes meeting him on paper more comfortable. Somehow he makes the world a much better place. ( )
  waldhaus1 | Jan 17, 2021 |
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"Brilliant . . . Larry Brown has slapped his own fresh tattoo on the big right arm of Southern Lit." --The Washington Post Book World Now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage, directed by David Gordon Green. Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won't slow down--not in his pickup, not with a gun, and certainly not with women. Gary Jones estimates his own age to be about fifteen. Born luckless, he is the son of a hopeless, homeless wandering family, and he's desperate for a way out. When their paths cross, Joe offers him a chance just as his own chances have dwindled to almost nothing. Together they follow a twisting map to redemption--or ruin.

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