I have a new fixation in my personal reading. There appears to be a new breed of writers currently publishing works that are at once deep, dark, and realistically gritty. I first got hooked on this storytelling style with Daniel Woodrell’s Winter Bone and Tomato Red. Then there was Benjamin Whitmer and both Pike and Cry Father. Now there’s Joe Clifford and Lamentation.
Synopsis: In a frigid New Hampshire winter, Jay Porter is trying to eke out a living and maintain some semblance of a relationship with his former girlfriend and their two-year-old son. When he receives an urgent call that Chris, his drug-addicted brother, is being questioned by the sheriff about his missing junkie business partner, Jay feels obliged to come to his rescue. After Jay negotiates his brother’s release from the county jail, Chris disappears into the night. As Jay begins to search for him, he is plunged into a cauldron of ugly lies and long-kept secrets that could tear apart his small hometown and threaten the lives of Jay and all those he holds dear. Powerful forces come into play that will stop at nothing until Chris is dead and the information he harbors is destroyed.”
I want to create a new genre and call it “meth lit,” and these authors would be on the front edge of that wave of stunning literary fiction with a decidedly dark and infected underbelly. We read books and watch television programs that glamorize the glitzy penthouses, rich-and-famous lifestyles, and, in short, how you’re not wealthy but they are. Those things represent the proverbial 1%, and not the rest of the world. However, “meth lit” shows us exactly how many of us really live.
Lamentation put me in mind of some of the best Elmore Leonard’s work. It’s got an edgy noir feel to it, but is also highly volatile. Clifford unceremoniously tears away the facade and shows the reader what happens when men who cannot handle power become powerful, and how greed and crime are not only bedfellows, but intimate lovers. And because of his meth-addled brother, Jay Porter finds himself smack in the middle of it. Inextricably so. And no matter how hard he tries to keep his own hands clean, it’s impossible when others insist that he stay out of their business. From the local politician turned governor, the governors brother, who owns a construction company and his own band of motorcycle bad-assess as security; from the local Keystone-like cops, to the suspicious detective from another county who takes a keen and perhaps unhealthy interest in the case of Porter’s brother.
Porter can’t catch a break either, which frustrates him and pisses him off. But at the end of the day, he knows his addict didn’t do what he’s being accused of, and will fight for his brother’s freedom, jeopardizing everything he has ever cherished.
Lamentation is an excellent novel, and has encouraged me to go back and read all of Clifford’s previous works.
Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive, and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. Joe is the author of four books (Choice Cuts, Junkie Love, Wake the Undertaker, and Lamentation), as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Based on the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. Joe’s writing can be found at: www.joeclifford.com.