Make My Bed in Hell

John Sanford. Brash, $16.99 trade paper (170p) ASIN B08VGWZWLN

First published in 1939, this bleak hardboiled novel from Sanford (1904–2003) explores the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma and the inescapability of generational rural poverty. Outside the small bucolic town of Warrensburg, Aaron Platt finds a trail of footprints leading into his barn. Inside, he finds an unconscious man freezing to death in a horse stall. Recognizing him as Tom Paulhan, one of his childhood tormentors, Platt faces a conundrum: help a man who has led a comparatively enviable life of ease or leave him to be accountable to the elements. Platt explains his long-building resentment of Paulhan as stemming from his upbringing at the hands of his cruel father, who was despised by the townsfolk. His dominating father, not wanting to lose a laborer or heir to the family’s blighted farm, thwarted his attempts at an education. The shifts among three different narrative voices can be confusing, but striking imagery more than compensates (“Darningneedles scaled through the air, stopping dead sometimes and beating their mica wings so rapidly that only their burntmatch bodies were visible”). This is a good starting point for readers unfamiliar with Sanford. [em](June) [/em]