Pages Menu
Abbey's Bookshop
Plain engish Foundation
Categories Menu

Posted on 4 Feb 2013 in Fiction |

C JOSEPH GREAVES Hard Twisted. Reviewed by Peter Corris

Tags: / / / / /

hard twistedGreaves channels Cormac McCarthy in this compelling Depression-era novel of a couple on the run.

If, like me, you’ve been waiting impatiently for Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Passenger, which is said to be ‘forthcoming’, Hard Twisted will do until it gets here. The story of Clint Palmer and Lucile Garret resembles that of Bonnie and Clyde in some ways but without the glamour – Clint is no Warren Beatty and Lucile is not Faye Dunaway.

C Joseph Greaves was lucky to come across the true-life story of  Palmer and Garret and their hard travelling from Texas to Utah and back again, signposted by car- and horse-theft and murder. Clint Palmer was a 36-year-old Texan, a cowboy and ex-convict with a dishonourable discharge from the army. His chief talent appears to have been the raising and training of fighting gamecocks.

Lucile Garrett was, at the time of her meeting with Palmer, the thirteen-year-old semi-literate child of a Bible-bashing (and daughter thrashing) drunk. Their story, as Greaves tells it, is not one of folie a deux. Lucile was a passive victim, a child, ignorant, emotionally under-nourished and God-bothered. Palmer claims to have been brutalised by the prison system, a completely believable assertion, and the intersection of these characters – the need for attention of the one and the rage of the other – makes for a compelling and tragic story.

The period is the Depression-blighted mid-1930s and the setting is the Southwestern states of Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Greaves’s descriptive writing clearly owes much to McCarthy:

They parked the smoking Buick in the last light of sunset with the jagged dogteeth of the San Juan Mountains glowing pink on the near horizon, their rocky peaks etched with the threads and arrowheads of late winter snow.

His scene-setting perhaps owes even more:

She leaned at the window and watched the backlit men at the cockpit shifting and swaying like pagan supplicants at some red and heretic mass as though in the blood of the contest some other truth could be divined.

Somehow the contrast between this kind of language and the ungrammatical and colloquial utterances of the characters provides a satisfying mix as the doomed pair make their unrelentingly hard-bitten and violent progress. Violence is in the backdrop and the foreground – hard drinking, shootings, physical assaults and activities like cock-fighting and a cruel contest involving horse-racing and the manual dismemberment of a chicken.

‘Violence is as American as cherry pie,’ as Black Panther leader H Rap Brown said, and in this book it seems to imbue the people and the earth and the sky.

Nothing is easy. When they attempt to farm a piece of land: ‘There was a pioneer cabin and a field choked over with knapweed, chetgrass and cholla.’

I have no idea what those plants are but I get the picture and feel the despair.

Tender moments are few. In Palmer’s case they surface only when he wants something he can’t simply steal; in Lucile’s they are mostly confined to animals. Grim though it is, in Hard Twisted, style and narrative, description and character blend seamlessly to produce a gripping novel from a bold writer committed to his material.

Hard Twisted C Joseph Greaves, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012, PB, 336pp, $29.95

If you would like to see if this book is available through Newtown Library, click here.