Larry Brown’s first novel is about two guys laid up in a VA hospital 22 years after getting wounded in Vietnam. One guy doesn’t have any arms or legs, and has been in the hospital all 22 of those years. The other guy had his face blown off, and the scar tissue sends him into the occasional seizure. He’s in the hospital tonight, telling stories and recovering the memory of what happened during this most recent seizure.
Why it’s interesting:
Brown cuts to the bone here. Somewhere George Singleton said a good premise for a story is two guys in an awkward situation, and Dirty Work is just that. Brown breaks a lot of rules as far as POV goes, because he doesn’t just switch back and forth with every chapter break. Rather, there seems to be an organic rhythm of the narrative, driven primarily by the armless/legless man trying to convince the other to kill him. Also noteworthy are Brown’s metaphors, which rise up out of the texture of the character’s background. For instance, one man’s snoring reminds the other of a D9 Cat rumbling. Or, a dude looking as uncomfortable as a chicken trying to shit peach pits. Language that makes you sit up and say “shit” because you know you couldn’t come up with something so sharp if your life depended on it. This novel isn’t Brown’s best, but it’s an enjoyable, haunting read.
I think I’ve read all of Brown’s novels now, except The Rabbit Factory which I’m not stoked about, so it’s onto his nonfiction. If you’ve never read Larry Brown, this is a good one to start with. I probably wouldn’t start with Fay, and maybe not A Miracle of Catfish, because those are best read after you’re familiar with his stuff. Joe is a good place to start.