The Wettest County in the World: A Novel Based on a True Story
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Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant’s grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. The Bondurant Boys were a notorious gang of roughnecks and moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition and in the years after. Howard, the eldest brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; Forrest, the middle brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; and Jack, the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin. Driven and haunted, these men forge a business, fall in love, and struggle to stay afloat as they watch their family die, their father's business fail, and the world they know crumble beneath the Depression and drought.
White mule, white lightning, firewater, popskull, wild cat, stump whiskey, or rotgut—whatever you called it, Franklin County was awash in moonshine in the 1920s. When Sherwood Anderson, the journalist and author of Winesburg, Ohio, was covering a story there, he christened it the “wettest county in the world.” In the twilight of his career, Anderson finds himself driving along dusty red roads trying to find the Bondurant brothers, piece together the clues linking them to “The Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy,” and break open the silence that shrouds Franklin County.
In vivid, muscular prose, Matt Bondurant brings these men—their dark deeds, their long silences, their deep desires—to life. His understanding of the passion, violence, and desperation at the center of this world is both heartbreaking and magnificent.
thing, but he’s wrong. I’ve seen it, he said, what lies beneath the earth, and it’s a terrible and beautiful thing. Howard enjoyed listening to him struggle with the words, Jack’s eyes laced with such sincerity that it was difficult to look away. Howard felt a dull ache in his ribs and he shifted in the seat. He thought of Lucy and his daughter, growing and becoming an agile creature in the woods. He would stay away from the card games and put some money away and maybe next year get a job up
there on the couch with the knitting ladies, and Jack was thinking that it would be best if he just sat there quietly and didn’t move. There was the wrenching of a door and a squawking sound and Charley Rakes came back into the room dragging Cricket by his ankle who flopped like a worm in sunshine. He sat up and rubbed his eyes and stared at the men and their axes. Three things you gotta tell us, son, Charley Rakes said. Where’s the still, where’s the liquor, and where’s the money? Cricket
thought with relief that the animal would live. Lined up next to the feed sack were the limbs of the calf, wet, knobby things that looked artificial, more like empty bones or old wood than any part of a living thing. Jack stared at them in disbelief, something deep inside him twisted and he let out an involuntary groan. There were six legs there, six legs laid neatly in a row. Outside the dogs began barking in the pen. If that ain’t something, Granville muttered, still stroking the nose of the
snoring lightly. Tazwell shut the engine down by the petrol pump and climbed down from his truck, watching the peculiar episode that was unfolding. The man on his knees was crying. Please, Tom, the man begged, don’t hit me no more. I swear I’ll leave you be. The side of the kneeling man’s face was a crimson mask of running blood. He had rippled clumps of scalp and hair on his forehead, fresh wounds, and his hands shook as he pleaded. Please, Tom, please. No more. Tom C. Cundiff’s arms hung
see her. Everybody all right? Jack will be good in a few weeks, he said. Forrest was hurt real bad, but he’s gonna pull through. Howard could feel the bones of her back and ribs but the weight was solid, a comfortable density and firmness of bone. He shifted and swung her slightly from side to side, her feet swaying. I almost lost them, he said. I almost lost them both. Oh, Howard, it’s all gonna be okay. I went into the ditch down the hill, had to push out. If I hadda been there earlier—