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Father and Son

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Before he turned to writing full-time, Larry Brown earned his living working as a fireman in Oxford, Mississippi. When, after the publication of his second book, DIRTY WORK (1989), he quit his job fighting fires to devote more time to writing, Brown did not turn his back or walk away from danger: or the things that burn. Instead, Larry Brown, in his previous three novels, two books of stories, as well as ON FIRE (1994), a nonfiction book about firefighting and writing, has time and time again ignited the page. In his third novel, FATHER AND SON, Brown once again sets fire to the story he sets out to tell.

Like his fellow Oxford, Mississippian William Faulkner, Larry Brown has made it a habit to create literature out of dangerous characters living out dangerous lives. Brown’s latest bad boy creation is a former convict named Glen Davis, the town’s bad seed, the kind of guy who goes looking for trouble. FATHER AND SON opens on the day of Glen Davis’ release from prison and tracks his five-day passage back to the bad habits that got him into trouble in the first place. Davis is a bad drunk, bad tempered, a bad son, bad man to women and a bad father to his own son. He is, in short, the classic anti-hero, a character who would be easy to dislike, but Brown transforms Davis not only into someone who attracts readers’ attentions, but also into someone whose struggles are common to everyone.

Brown does not ask his readers to root for Glen Davis; what happens, though, is that through all of the horrible acts of this man—violence that ranges from murder to rape—readers stand side by side with Glen Davis, almost as if they are shareholders in this big bad story that pits good versus evil, darkness against light. This novel, like its predecessor, JOE (1991), is a book that takes readers inside the dark heart of danger, and then leaves them with that quiet sense of relief—the redemption—that comes after the fire has been put out.

Sources for Further Study

Atlanta Journal Constitution. September 29, 1996, p. M3.

Booklist. XCII, July, 1996, p. 1779.

Boston Globe. October 20, 1996, p. M16.

Chicago Tribune. October 9, 1996, V, p. 3.

Library Journal. CXXI, August, 1996, p. 110.

New York. XXIX, October 21, 1996, p. 54.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, September 22, 1996, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, June 24, 1996, p. 44.

USA Today. November 21, 1996, p. D7.

The Washington Post. September 26, 1996, p. C2.

Father and Son

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 23)

Larry Brown’s stark and vivid rendering of the inner lives of poor, hard-living white Southerners has commanded the attention of serious readers since his first disturbing stories came onto the literary scene in small magazines and in the story collections Facing the Music and Big Bad Love. He has followed it with the novels Dirty Work and Joe, and the short haunting memoir On Fire, about the seventeen years he spent as a fireman and emergency rescue technician in the hometown he shares with William Faulkner: Oxford, Mississippi, which is sometimes called, only partly in jest, “the Vatican of Southern writing.”

Though Brown’s work follows the basic settings, speech, and themes of traditional Southern fiction—the tangled loyalties of family and community, the pressures of history, soul- grinding poverty and economic struggle, and Southerners’ visceral bond with the land—his work is remarkable for what it does not contain. Both stereotype and sentimentality are virtually absent from Brown’s writing, as is, strangely, the kind of lyrical exalted language that has become synonymous with Southern authors from Faulkner on down.

Larry Brown achieves his sometimes stunning dramatic effects not by soaring turns of phrase but by the gradual accretion of an undeniable reality, a vision that is severe and tender in equal measure, as in this description of a sheriff going to a remote place where a child’s body has been found:

They got into the cruiser and drove out into the country to meet the coroner and his helpers at a lonely and...

(The entire section is 2,339 words.)