The one-syllable punch of the title of this novel gives the measure of its eponymous protagonist. Joe deserves such a name; no one ever would call him “Joseph.” He is a hard-drinking, gun-concealing, good old boy from the backwoods of rural Mississippi, a place described in all its dark loveliness by the author. Brown’s milieu, however, is not the columned mansions, the Junior League clubrooms, or the New South fern bars. Joe is a contractor for a lumber company. His world is that of small storekeepers, petty criminals, prostitutes, and gamblers. It is a lower-middle-class society, if not in economic terms, certainly in terms of education and custom. Its denizens speak the dialect of the region with all its emblematic colloquialisms of casual profanity and colorful metaphor.
Joe is an ex-con who, in his middle years, has no desire to return to jail. A tough man, at times a mean one, he doesn’t back down when confronted with violence or arrogance. He rides the back roads, makes a little money, drinks a lot of beer and whiskey, frequents prostitutes, and generally wants to be left alone. Into his life comes a family (his drinking and headstrong ways have alienated him from his own) so wretched that they become squatters in a tumbled-down forest shack. Wade Jones, the patriarch of this coven of despair, is evil incarnate, a man who will kill a fellow wino for his six-pack, a man who steals form his son, sells his baby, beats his wife, and finally...
(The entire section is 454 words.)