Twilight by William Gay

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Twilight by William Gay

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A chase to the death in the rural US provides an interesting, if flawed, read, that those interested in the quirky and individual will appreciate, if only so far.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 200 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571235650

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The early 1950s, somewhere in the southern US. Old chaps sit on their porches, or in funnily-named greasy spoons, talking about perhaps one of three things. The changeable weather; a local bad lad called Sutter, who is known to have got away with killing at least one man over another criminal matter; or the local undertaker, Breece, who might be even more rum.

So rum in fact that Kenneth and Corrie, brother and sister, are spending their nights digging up graves to make sure everything is right with their deceased father in the world beyond.

Needless to say everything is not alright, which leaves an opportune chance at blackmailing Breece. This however is just the wrong person to try and blackmail, and soon the main crux of the book is formed - a cat and mouse chase to the death in a local badlands, between Kenneth and Sutter.

The badlands are certainly odd - it's a place of death - both of nature and the mining industry that was once there; of desertion - empty shells of buildings and screes of rock; a place where old women are deemed witches when other people living there with absolutely nothing to do are thought more normal; where giant owls are released from traps with no effect on the rest of the book; and the earth itself sings.

This location, and the very approach to an extended chase sequence, albeit interspersed with other characters and events, makes for a very individual novel. So why does it only get three and a half bookbag stars? Well, the writing is certainly unique. I just didn't succeed quite as well as I should in immersing myself in the environs of the story.

For some reason I was under the impression the first few chapters were jumping from one time-zone to another, but apart from the italicised first one, a flash-forward, they weren't. That didn't help. All the local characters come with an accented local drawl, but seemed to all speak with the same voice to me. The style is very noticeable - doublebarrelled words are forever hyphenvoided. (See what I did there?) There are several words I had never come across before, and not just with the local wildlife getting a mention in the cinematically descriptive prose. Also a lot of the sentences had an unusual construction and length, giving an almost archaic style - this was very pleasant for me but clashed with the 1950s-seen-through-the-eyes-of-the-2000s reality of the book.

Elsewhere Sutter seems just too all-knowing and omnipresent, and the story suffers for forcing itself into having very few possible endings (or do I bluff, and there is no resolution?!) - which made me put the book down realising I would never need to read it again. I admired the plotting and the pleasantly thought-through story - it was a very quirky and effective approach to the plot, which while not very original did not really suffer for all that.

I have probably gone far too far in mentioning reasons for not reading this book, which is not my intent - I really do think this book should be sampled, if not bought, and it is recommended for all who would appreciate the stylistic mannerisms and the gritty look at rural American life. The characters are pretty well realised, as are all the locales - the decrepit mansions right down to the hovels and caves, and the historical setting. It is a book that doesn't try and tell us anything, rather just entertain us, and this is a rare species of book that goes beyond the required level to do so. The matter-of-fact way it deals with the unusual happenings and the world it's set in will be a major factor in its appeal.

I finished the book in one sitting (a bit lengthy due to the tiny print), returned to the first chapter to reabsorb that with more knowledge, and felt a disappointingly strong sense of 'that's that'. All the same I did enjoy Twilight, but with reservations due to the several small flaws that were throughout.

By the way, Hunter's Run was last year's best novel about a chase to the death in an unusual environment - a cross-reference I would never have expected to make.

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