HARD TWISTED - C Joseph Greaves
The Great Depression is one of those eras in history that has been depicted in books and movies over and over again. Perhaps it's the obvious case of the more dire the circumstances in which people must find a way to survive, the more opportunity there is to explore those extremes, to consider how it is that the best and worst in people can emerge at times of great distress. It's also a period that lends itself to a certain style of cinematic portrayal, dark, dirty, deprived, depressed, it's hard not to think grey and bleak.
There is something cinematic about HARD TWISTED which incorporates lyrical passages of writing and descriptions, creating a sense of that grey bleakness. It provides a very realistic feeling of a dire world in which lives are lived on the extremes of hardship and people struggle with the endless grind of hunger and homelessness with no obvious way out. It's a story that resonates through lots of hard economic times.
Winner of the Best Historical Novel of 2010 in the South West Writers International Writing Contest, there are strong echoes here of other classic depression and hard-times based fiction with dysfunctional worlds, people on the move, on the lookout constantly for a way out, some relief from the inevitability. Told mostly from the viewpoint of 13-year-old Garrett, HARD TWISTED is the story of an ex-con, hustler, charismatic charmer who is really a dangerous, murderous psychopath. It's also the story of a 13-year-old girl in an impossible situation.
The book employs a number of different viewpoints and timeframes. Much of it is the direct relating of current day events, mostly from Garrett's viewpoint, interspersed with the voices of other characters. Parts of the book are introduced by snippets of testimony at what is obviously a trial, the nature of which is revealed as the book progresses.
There is much to admire about this book, and yet, there were problems which meant that this reader often found herself lost and fighting a growing sense of disinterest. Which confounded me completely. Whilst there is absolutely no doubt that the word pictures being drawn were beautifully done, there was something indistinguishable about the character's voices, not helped at all by a total lack of quotation marks to indicate what was / wasn't dialogue. No idea why, all it did was make me toil backwards a lot - checking what / who / said / observed / saw / did / didn't. Confused... moi... frequently.
That confusion meant that whilst the multiple questions of why - why he did what he did / why she stayed - the interesting and instructive bits, especially as you knew who, and what wasn't that hard to work out, kept disappearing. It was disappearing into beautiful, dense, poetic, lyrical writing no doubt about that, but it was there, just out of reach, for so much of the book whilst this reader worked backwards and forwards through the text, trying to get focus.
Maybe it was ultimately that I came away from HARD TWISTED feeling like I'd been invited to a party where everybody else spoke in a different language. Beautiful to listen to, lovely to watch people interact, no idea why I was there. I got so bored with the constant tracking backwards and forwards, with the low-key, laid back glacial advancement, with the cleverness of the structure that I got frustrated with myself. It's doubtful that anybody else is going to have that reaction - the authority with which the time period is described, the way that the life is so beautifully drawn, undeniably mean it's going to be a book that other readers are just going to get. As much as I kept thinking I should be loving this book, I didn't loathe it, but I certainly obviously didn't get it.
Lucile Garrett is just thirteen when she meets Clint Palmer, a charismatic stranger who will forever change her life. The year is 1934, and as the windblown dust of the Great Depression rakes the Oklahoma plains, Palmer offers Lucile and her father, homeless and hungry, the irresistible promise of a better future.
But when they follow Palmer to Texas, Lucile's father mysteriously disappears, launching man and girl on an epic journey through the American Southwest: a spree of violence and murder that culminates in one of the most celebrated criminal trials of the era.
Based on a true story, Hard Twisted is a chilling tale of survival and redemption, and a young girl's coming of age in a world as cruel as it is beautiful.