cover image When These Mountains Burn

When These Mountains Burn

David Joy. Putnam, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-53688-8

Joy (The Line that Held Us) serves up an engrossing drama of violence and vengeance in western North Carolina. In 2016, as the Tellico fire burns thousands of acres, Joy delves into the life of retired forester Raymond Mathis; his 40-year-old opiate-addicted son, Ricky, who has already stolen everything from Ray’s house that could be pawned; Ricky’s fellow addict and thief Denny Rattler, bearing a face “whittled” by drugs to “bone and shadow”; and DEA agent Ronald Holland. After a pill pusher tells Ray he has to pay $10,000 or he’ll kill Ricky, the four men become unlikely allies. The money was meant to be Ray’s nest egg, having received it after a drawn-out battle with the state over eminent domain. Joy’s razor-sharp prose details disturbing, graphic images of brutality that begin when Raymond resolves to protect his son. The threads of the story intertwine after Ricky gets hurt and Ronald connects the dots. As the fire spreads, the characters offer emotional reflections on the loss of their mountain culture, already being “sold off for tourists dollars” at the time of the fire. Joy handles everything with ease, proving himself to be one hell of a writer. Agent: Julia Kenny, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Aug.)