Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich
Some of my favorite bloggers have enjoyed this debut novel; Sarah's Book Shelves had a great experience with this one (her review here), as did River City Reading (her thoughts here). After patiently waiting my turn on the library hold list, I finally got my chance and it was worth the wait. Author Brian Panowich is also participating in this year's #30Authors event; you should check out his review of Soil by Jamie Kornegay.
Author: Brian Panowich
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons (July 7, 2015)
Source: library copy
What it's about (via Goodreads):
Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.
One of my favorite passages:
As a kid, Rye used to believe those rays of light warming his skin were the fingers of God, reaching down through the trees to bless this place - to look out for his home. But as a man, he'd grown to know better. The children running underfoot and the womenfolk might have some use for that superstitious nonsense, but Riley reckoned if there was some Sunday-school God looking out for the people on this mountain, then the job wouldn't always fall on him.
As an undergrad at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, I took a class that was developed by the chair of the History Department in conjunction with the recent release of a book titled Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History by David Goldfield. Our department chair and the author were acquaintances and Dr. Goldfield agreed to come and speak with our class about his adventures while researching and writing this book; since most of the students within this liberal arts institution were from the South, yet somehow under the impression that we were "different," we looked forward to his visit and learning more about the other South...the things that go on that no one likes to talk about.
While reading Bull Mountain, especially the experiences of Clayton Burroughs (the one who got away, so to speak), I was reminded of the way I felt during this class; I remember feeling sad because I realized that the individuals who are bred of a particular culture are not often aware of their options outside of that culture and probably do not have knowledge of any other way of life. At one point in the novel, Clayton is contemplating a return to "the mountain" so that he can speak with a family member and this is a passage that really hit me:
This place was his home, no matter how unkind it had been to him. Clayton knew he would always be welcome, but the badge had no business here at all. If a thing existed up here, it was because it belonged here. And if it didn't belong, the people who lived here made damn sure it didn't stay. Clayton had struggled with which side of that fence he was on ever since he could remember. The sadness this place brought him was almost equal to the pride it filled him with.
Wow, that is such a powerful statement. Right? I think it completely and perfectly describes the relationship that I've had with my rural, Southern roots at various times of my life and the ongoing relationship that I have with the culture of the South. For those of you who may be bothered by it, there is fair share of violence in this novel; however, author Brian Panowich does an amazing job of creating scenes wherein the violence is poetic and it left me struggling to decide who was suffering more - the victim or the perpetrator.
Definitely in my top five for the year, I highly recommend this novel; I hope some of you will take the time to read it and I can't wait to read more from this wonderfully talented writer.
About the author:
Brian is the author of Bull Mountain, a southern crime saga published 7/7/15 from Putnam Books. He has several stories available in print and online collections. Two of his stories, "If I Ever Get Off This Mountain" and "Coming Down The Mountain", were nominated for a Spinetingler award in 2013. He is currently a firefighter in East Georgia, living with his wife and four children. Bull Mountain is his first novel.