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Country Dark by Chris Offutt

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Chris Offutt is clearly one of our region’s most distinguished writers, and his seventh book, only his second novel, has been awaited with great anticipation. Offutt grew up in Haldeman, Kentucky, a small, very rural, community not far from Morehead State University. He dropped out of high school and traveled around the country taking whatever jobs he could find before returning to Morehead to get a degree in Theater and English. After more travels, he was accepted to the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop and has had mostly academic jobs ever since. His career got off to a terrific start with the story collection, Kentucky Straight (1992), still one of the best books for fiction teachers because of the combination of amazing turns of phrase and sweeping verisimilitudes so true to life that they are almost guaranteed to either piss you off or impress you with their wisdom. Since then he has written two autobiographies, another story collection, a novel and a biography, My Father, the Pornographer (2016). He has also been a screenwriter for two television series, True Blood and Weeds, This novel, Country Dark, takes place between 1954 and 1970. The protagonist, Tucker, returns to Eastern Kentucky from the Korean War, goes to work for a local bootlegger, falls in love and starts a family. When his family is threatened, he responds, and the plot begins to take turns that have led the book to be viewed as “country noir.” Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and commented, “A Southern gothic story . . . Offutt has a fine ear for Kentucky-speak . . . that capture[s] the rhythms of rural conversation . . . Tucker is a knotty and complex character . . . A compelling and brooding read.” Publishers Weekly enthused, “Offutt’s exceptional new novel brings to light with gritty, heartfelt precision what one character, a social worker, calls the ‘two Kentuckys, east and west, dirt and blacktop.’ . . . Offutt’s prose cuts deep and sharp . . . An undeniable testament to the importance and clarity of Offutt’s voice in contemporary American literature.”

New York: Grove Press, 2018. 231 pages. Hardback in dust jacket