Southern Comfort

Michael Largo, Author
Michael Largo, Author Tropical Press $14.95 (250p) ISBN 978-0-9666173-1-3
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The 1999 publication of Largo's second novel, Lies Within, occasions this reprint of the author's 1977 glimpse into Florida's backwoods trailer lowlife, which centers around alcoholic antihero Earl Johnson Tucker. The book's efficient, realistic dialogue sustains the adventures of Earl and his swampland cohorts as they ramble and flail in mud-laden waters, illegally poaching gators, killing snakes, spiking turtles and hunting raccoon. The grim tale moves from trailer to tavern to swamp, the plot adorned with a vaguely outlined subplot involving two teenage sisters who sneak off for trysts with some army reservists. The girls' father and brothers wind up killing the reservists and spend half the novel hunting down Tucker as well, under the impression that the hard-drinking poacher also messed around with the teenagers. This minidrama remains sketchy and incidental, ostensibly serving as a simplistic and clich d reminder that backwoods girls are stupid, conniving and more trouble than they're worth. Meanwhile, Earl and his buddies troll the taverns for ""gashes"" (i.e., women, or whores) and the swamps for gator. Earl is a tough-talking, stereotypical redneck who's hard to like, especially as he's both demanding and neglectful of the one likable character, his wife, Ellen, wheelchair-bound after a stroke. The story becomes even more grim when Ellen dies, taking with her the book's only source of emotional complexity. The last part of the novel is a litany of fishing, beer guzzling, barroom brawling and a superficially handled resolution to the reservists' killings. Though this peek into the gritty, violent life of a boozy desperado may waver in focus, Largo's rendering of Florida's seamy side is convincingly squalid, and his characters manifest this grubbiness with effortless and unremitting nerve. (Oct.)
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