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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

ABOVE Jackson County, NC, 2017 (These

and other photographs by Ashley T. Evans appeared within Joy’s “Digging in the Trash” essay, cited in this review.)



had seemingly made a too on-thenose allusion to another homicidal prophet, Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit: “that kid might’ve been all right if it had been a gun to his head every minute of his life” (14). In the final moments of this weirdly hopeful novel, however, the gun metaphors undercut the novel’s apparent fatalism, and at least one person survives that final encounter not only alive but enlightened, not the victim of fate but the recipient of revelation. Although Joy’s novels are populated with people who could live in many parts of rural America, his place is a thinly fictionalized version of the author’s own home in Jackson County, NC. There are parts of Google Map’s Jackson County here – Cullowhee, Sylva, Dillsboro, a crossroads store in Tuckaseegee, Christmas tree farms – where Joy makes fictional things occur on the margin of fact and story. In his fiction, Joy is building a world, populating his coves and river towns with made-up folks (a sketchy lawyer, churchgoers who share a pedophile’s surname), keeping other characters in reserve, perhaps for novels to come: boozy college kids messing with danger, rich retirees lording it over the locals, MS13. With the verisimilitude of place, Joy can work on the people who live in the modern mountain South, where the one place likely to hold all kinds of people at once is Walmart. The Line That Held Us is David Joy’s third novel. Its publication closely follows those of the good but tentative Where All Light Tends to Go and the mature, excellent The Weight of This World. The latter, which found Joy successfully


learning to write through the viewpoints of multiple protagonists, occasioned several remarkably truculent paragraphs in Open Letters Monthly. In it a reviewer objected strenuously to the last two words of the book’s title. The world, he suggests, is a good place to write about, but this world – the world Joy loves – is not. In that now-defunct online journal, Steve Donaghue rejects critical consensus to denounce “manic hayseed noir,” advising Joy to “leave the meth labs and peeling trailers, come down out of the hollers, and try writing about people for a change” (italics his) – as if those living up hollers in single-wides are not, in fact, human beings worth reading and caring about.1 Although this kind of review – intemperate, bigoted – does not demand or even deserve a response, David Joy wrote one with “Digging in the Trash,” an even-keeled statement of purpose that can be read in The Bitter Southerner. In Joy’s online story, he states that “this is a place sopping wet with raw emotion, a 1

Steve Donaghue. Review of The Weight of This World by David Joy, Open Letters Monthly 15 Mar. 2017: web.

landscape drenched with humanity. It is all I know and it is beautiful.”2 He mentions Donaghue’s review and gets to his point: “I’m tired of an America where all the folks I’ve ever loved are dismissed as trash . . . reduced to something subhuman simply because of where they live.” What Donaghue just about says, writes Joy, is that “what lives in those trailers, what finds itself in a world consumed by hopelessness, addiction, and violence, those aren’t people at all” (italics mine). Most of the people in this latest novel are not trash – Darl and Calvin are working class, and Angie is going to school to be a nurse. These are decent people. But Dwayne Brewer, from the first pages he appears on, is trash and knows it. That’s the gun pointed right up his road in Jackson County, where dogs and rats and buzzards look to be better suited to life than his kind of people (or people). The Line That Held Us, with its wild swings from grotesque violence to nature’s beauty to a religious rapture that might even be real, ends propitiously, with a cocked and sighted gun. n 2

David Joy. “Digging in the Trash,” Bitter Southerner 2 May 2017: web.

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.