By Jenny Hendrix
4:25 PM EST, January 4, 2013
C. Joseph Greaves
Bloomsbury: 304 pp., $25
"Hard Twisted," C. Joseph Greaves' tale of Okie noir, grew out of the author's accidental discovery of two human skulls in a Utah canyon. The discovery provoked an investigation into the story of the Depression-era drifter Clint Palmer and Lucile (Lottie) Garrett, the 13-year-old girl who became his mistress and companion after the mysterious disappearance of her father.
The novel, based on what Greaves learned of Palmer's yearlong killing spree in the Southwest, reads like a kind of Dust Bowl "Lolita," its story as disquieting and brutal if not as elegantly told. Still, the prose is rich with historical detail and local color, and borrows from the likes of Cormac McCarthy its intensely observed destitution, spareness (like McCarthy, Greaves eschews quotations marks) and lack of sensationalism.
Greaves has a great ear for period dialogue, and a hard-boiled, pulpy sense of humor: "Lyin is in the nature of man and boy alike," one woman tells Lottie, holding her thumb and finger apart. "Hell, I went for years thinking this here was six inches, till I started dating me a carpenter." Greaves writes, in a limited way, from Lottie's perspective, which does occasionally lead him into difficulty, as when his language strays into territory where Lottie seems not to belong. Each chapter is introduced by a (fictionalized) piece of transcript from Palmer's trial, a technique that plays to the author's strengths as a former L.A. trial attorney.
Actually, Greaves is weakest in the place he claims to have fictionalized the most: Lottie's feelings for Palmer. Greaves leans toward a kind of love, but the evidence he offers is not quite convincing, and not nearly deep or troubling enough for the material at hand. Never mind though: The novel is a gritty, gripping read, and one that begs to be put on film.
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