Crimes in Southern Indiana
Frank Bill
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Buy *Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories* by Frank Bill online

Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories
Frank Bill
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
288 pages
August 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Like the island of Dr. Moreau, Southern Indiana is a cauldron of despair and destruction wrought of the chronically impoverished and amphetamine-addicted, a wasteland in a country of plenty. Marrying a lack of economic and educational opportunity with a naturally rebellious state of mind, this lawless swath of inhabitants embraces the most basic method of conflict resolution – violence - as a counterpoint to frustration, rage and hopelessness. Related families and characters are linked from tale to tale in an agonizing dance of violence and retribution that leaves no one without scars, women and children collateral damage as angry men thrash out their demons.

In stories titled “Amphetamine Twitch,” “Old Testament Wisdom” and “Cold, Hard Love,” these modern-day Shakespearean tragedies unfold: vets haunted by memories of men they have killed in war unable to make the transition to home and family, flashbacks unleashing violence-fueled rages where wives become an extension of the enemy and children learn to be men like their fathers in a tortured, shameful legacy. Everything is visual in these tales, tactile, blood-spattered and fresh-kill gutted, an environment with no tolerance for emotion or sentiment: “Whether it’s spilled or related, blood is blood.”

A collection of noir nightmares, this scorched landscape is no less real than any other fractured loyalty of place, though it often seems as though Bill is tapping into a past of lawlessness and territorial identity more appropriate to the taming of the Wild West. The long, deadly fingers of drug addiction, specifically the immensely lucrative and physically deteriorating effects of methamphetamines, cling to the soil of Southern Indiana as deep as patriotism and Second Amendment rights, a blight that turns men into monsters and lives into tragedies. Bill is fearless in the telling, barely blinking as bodies are smashed and mutilated, morality and dignity trampled by the lure of chemical oblivion.

Still, the common thread of humanity ties these tortured souls to one another in a series of one-act plays in a theater of the damned, where hope is as easily extinguished - and as perishable - as human life. Men who served their country are reduced to the ignominy of a drug economy, the only sustainable resource where rage and despair dissipate with the flare of a match. Even the wives and mothers who might temper these hard men are rendered helpless, caught up in their own chemical romances, oblivious punching bags for their husband’s frustrations. A scathing indictment of this sad wasteland, Bill’s stories are riveting, shocking and brutal, despair more pervasive than the occasional clumsy embrace or the nurturing of a child. Yet it is a journey well worth the taking, for those fleeting glimpses of affection, the memory of family, a history where poverty is a burden but not a death sentence.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2011

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