Books, I Read It First

I Read It First: The World Made Straight

We’re starting things off with a fizzle rather than a bang here on I Read It First, with this rip-roaring bore of a book by Ron Rash. Admittedly, it is not in one of my favored genres so it’s no surprise that I didn’t like it, but I think even a staunch historical allegory buff would roll their eyes at this thing. Unless they’re really into vague fishing metaphors.

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The Book: The World Made Straight, by Ron Rash

Genre: Historical allegorical…literature?

First Impressions: I put a question mark after “literature” above because I refuse to acknowledge “literature” as a genre when it is suppose to be a quality assessment, but there really is no better category for what this book wants to be. The World Made Straight checks every box for “Great Modern American Literature”: class conflict, civil war feels, men abandoned by women who just didn’t understand, rampant drug use, etc. etc. It’s the kind of book where you know within the first few pages that at least one major character is going to die and you aren’t going to be sad about it.

Set in Appalachia, The World Made Straight follows the intertwined lives of Leonard Candler, an ex-teacher turned drug-dealer descended from Confederate soldiers who did some killing, and Travis Shelton, a smarter-than-he-lets-on high school dropout fisherman descended from the Union soldiers who got killed. When Travis’ sheer stupidity gets him into trouble (a recurring theme), Leonard comes to the unlikely rescue, and the two build a relationship around their mutual interest in the Civil War, which leads them both to begin cleaning up their lives. But then Travis gets them into hot water over a damsel-in-distress situation with some local evil-for-no-reason marijuana farmers, and it all ends in Very Poignant Death for Leonard. There are ladies in the story, too, but they don’t do anything but nag and occasionally require rescuing.

Credit where credit is due: Ron Rash has some mad descriptive game. On a sentence-level, this is a gorgeous book, full of detailed settings and lively imagery, as befits the Appalachian mountains. But that’s about the end of my positive feedback, because everything else is a disaster. Leonard and Travis’ personalities and motivations are basically non-existent, behaving like puppets on a string Ron Rash’s dog got a hold of and dragged away from him and the plot. I have no idea why they did any of the things that they did, because none of their actions followed logically from their circumstances. This, despite the fact that literally the entire book is narrated from inside their heads. Unsurprisingly, not-viewpoint characters make even less sense, with Leonard’s druggie not-girlfriend Dena careening wildly from vampy vixen to doe-eyed child; Travis’ hen-pecking girlfriend whose attachment to him is as immediate as it is inexplicable; and the villainous father-son Toomey duo who just, like, murder people and sell drugs and force Dena into sex-slavery because they’re sociopaths or something, I don’t know, it’s really unclear. There’s suppose to be an undercurrent of civil war wrongs being righted, or at least honored, but the threads are tenuous at best. Basically this book is a boring clusterfuck.

Will It Adapt?: Oh, god will it ever not adapt. I mean, the scenery porn will be gorgeous, but this story doesn’t make any sense even with pages upon pages of internal monologue. Take that away and all you have is a kid fishing a lot and learning about the civil war, and then a run-away drug subplot that destroys everything. What little interesting action does happen in the book is buried in the historical back story, discovered through Leonard and Travis recommending books to one another, and good luck making compelling film out of that. The only way you could even begin to communicate it is through periodic civil war flash backs, which is always clumsy and cumbersome. The book is boring, but the movie will be a disaster.

Should I Read It?: I wouldn’t bother. Just pretend this thing doesn’t exist.

Civilly yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates.” –The World Made Straight by Ron Rash

This post is part of my I Read It First series.

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