Drugs Are Bad. And So Are People.

A Swollen Red Sun - Matthew McBride

Is it redundant to call anything from hick-lit gritty? And grainy? While carrying the stench of eighty-percent humidified and sweat-drenched bodies across its pages? In any case, this is such a departure from my usual reading choices that you’ll have to forgive me if I may come across like a tourist in a petting zoo. I imagine myself taking selfies with the Meth Addict who shot a bald eagle and the crazy Reverend butchering horses and pigs as sacrifices while he cooks the best crank ever.



While I can’t say it went down as smoothly as I hoped for, this has definitely reset some bars in my reading criteria. A Swollen Red Sun was so richly textured in depicting a town’s decay, I’d probably be less generous with the term “gritty” elsewhere from hereon.


Pharmacies. Mobiles homes. Farms. Meth. This is the County of Gasconade where Deputy Sheriff Dale Banks grew up, an honourable man who has been fighting the festering rot off his beloved town. A true hero who lived long enough to become the unwitting villain by keeping the $52000 he found in the trailer of local tweaker, James Dean Skaggs. This of course sets into motion a series of unfortunate events leaving collateral damages on its path, culminating in the discovery of just how far his town has devolved.


There’s a lot of moral dilemmas and social commentary to be made but I am feeling a little out of my depth in my first foray into this genre so I’m just going to stick with what I did and didn’t like. As a long-time fan of small-town stories, I was fascinated how Gasconade approximated the mutant child of Meth Culture and Parochial Values. How the trade, distribution and use of such an ugly drug gradually eroded a community into a cesspool of unfulfilled plans, broken families and endless cycles of violence. But as one ponders more (I hate the pondering part of me), it really complicates to a frustratingly endless chicken and egg scenario between the chemical and man’s depravity. What was more interesting was witnessing Banks’ moral standards shift and slide with the given context, how easily he becomes part of the very system he’s trying to fight against.


I liked how tautly this was written, the imagery vivid and visceral, the twists jarring. I can never truly fathom how people can get addicted to something that can lead to tooth loss, body odor and bad skin (vanity doing God’s work right there) but there’s unmistakable, harrowing poetry behind capturing any manner of substance-induced high into words.


And then he was free. He closed his eyes and felt the world detonate. It was warm and black and slow. Both terrifying and beautiful. It was everything he’d ever felt, all at once, and at that moment, no one else on earth had ever felt as good as him.

This was told in the third person from varied and unpredictable perspectives. New POVs were still getting introduced past the halfway mark and this just messed with the story’s pacing and momentum for me seeing as I have to keep tabs on a new hick. I liked the complexity of the characters. The villains were ruthless and truly terrifying in their capacities and the supposed good guys were sufficiently ambiguous in their morals to hold my attention from one gripping scene to the next. I wasn’t exactly invested into who dies and who survives, this book had no heroes and a lot of victims after all, but I’d be lying if I told you I was riveted to the end.


I just wish it didn’t take so long to get to the grisly bits. The consequences of that stolen money were winded and and complex but took its sweet sweet time to actually start rolling. There were a lot of backstories being set up and the connection of one character to another took too long and obscure to make the point of reveal shocking. There were moments of “Who?” for me in vital twists. I did like the casualness in the delivery of the plot twists though I did find some of Banks’ deductive dumping prowess over 12-packs of beer on the clunky side. I would have enjoyed better showing than telling in that aspect.


I was expecting something else from this book but can’t say I’m disappointed with what this presented instead and how it turned out in the end. But for breaking the monotony of smutty romance, YA-tearjerkers and douchebag narrators, this did the job satisfyingly enough. 


Things you acquire on this earth are meaningless once you’re alone, and memories become the currency of choice. Growing old is the most painful thing in the world.


ARC courtesy of the publishers. Quotes taken from an uncorrected proof.