Country Dark is the story of Tucker, a young man from the hollers of Kentucky. It opens as he’s returning from the Korean Wa. He rescues Rhonda from a rape-intent uncle. They marry right away. He’s seventeen and she’s fourteen. He works as a bootlegger. They love each other but their marriage is challenged by all but one of their children suffering from developmental disabilities. This is a sorrow, but they still love their children. There is so much tenderness when Tucker comes home, sits down next to his hydrocephalic son, holds his hand and tells him about his day, talking to him about life, as he lies there unresponsive.
There are complications from rivals, corrupt law enforcement, and children’s services, but Tucker does whatever is necessary to protect his family. The story is at once heartbreaking and affirming.
I loved Country Dark for many reasons. The writing is beautiful. The wealth of country knowledge and the sense of place are extraordinary. The prose is entrancing, but the characters are bit inexplicable. For example, Tucker forces Rhonda’s awful uncle to sell him his car, one that was retrofitted for bootlegging, which seems to be reason enough for him to become a bootlegger. I get that it never occurs to him to use the GI Bill to get an education, but he couldn’t consider some honest local occupation? Have car, will bootleg?
He knows it’s an occupation that risks his family, so he doesn’t do everything he could to protect his family. Then the curse of the developmentally disabled children. Thanks to medical tests, we know there’s no medical reason. Are we supposed to reason this is some curse? I wondered about environmental contamination, but that’s not part of the story.
But even though it makes no sense on many levels, I liked Tucker, I liked his daughter. I liked Rhonda. I wanted the best for them and cared about what happened and that’s the point. And as I said, the prose is nearly magical. It entranced me enough to overlook the lack of character development.
I also loved the final chapter wrapping up what happened to people in the book, even the minor characters. That was such great fun.
I received a copy of Country Dark from the publisher through Edelweiss.