cover image Back to the Dirt

Back to the Dirt

Frank Bill. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-53443-1

Bill’s feverish latest (after The Savage) shines a light on an American heartland blighted by crushed dreams and debilitating addictions. Among the working-class characters in Corydon, Ind., is Miles Knox, a 57-year-old Vietnam vet who works in the local paint-additive factory in the early 2000s. Miles is so haunted by memories of war that he converses with dead buddies as though they’re still alive and guzzles steroids to keep those thoughts at bay. Miles’s much younger girlfriend, Shelby McCutchen, works as a stripper and looks after her twin brother, Wylie, who’s addicted to Oxycontin. Wylie’s supplier, Bedford Timberlake, has just died, and Bedford’s ex-cop brother, Nathaniel, thinks Wylie killed him. The paths of these and numerous others converge over the course of a gore-spattered and drug-laced day of reckoning, as Nathaniel sets out to get revenge for Bedford’s death. Bill refracts the events through a variety of viewpoints, with some of the characters so compromised by drugs that the story turns surreal. With kinetic prose, Bill keeps up the pace and delivers a steady supply of grisly details (a dead man laid out on a floor is “smeared like a dream one couldn’t recollect, being delivered in fragments and knots of bone and red to a parched mind”). It makes for one hell of a ride. (May)