The dilemma of Richard Weatherford, an upper-middle class teacher in the Arkansas Ozarks, drives the story. He is being blackmailed by Gary Doane, a parishioner he had an affair with, for twenty-thousand dollars. In an attempt to get the money, he tells Brian Harten, a local screw up who wants to open a liquor store, that he will move his vote on the town council on its dry law for the cash. In pursuit of his dream, Brian decides to rob his boss, who owns the bar outside the county line and has his fingers in a few questionable pies. All get caught up in a chain of violence and black comedy including the minister’s wife and Gary’s girlfriend, all over an Easter weekend, that leads leads to one of the best last lines this year.
Hinkson follows these characters at a perfect distance. We’re close enough to feel their desperation and understand their thought process, but never so intimate to completely stand with or predict them. It allows for the satire to never play broad. We are also able to easily switch sympathies when more is understood. Like a good Elmore Leonard character, you know them, but never know where they are going.
Not only does the story tie them together through plot, but through the idea of faith. Hinkson not only deals with religious faith faith, but faith in love, money, politics (it takes place during the 2016 Primaries) and family. Much of the characters’ actions are driven by their beliefs in at least one and the justifications they use when that faith is challenged.
Dry County will hopefully earn Jake Hinkson the fanbase he deserves. He’s subtle in his preciseness, revealing an evil that doesn’t seem so threatening at first glance. By the time we’ve reached that last line, we’ve stared straight in the eye, and maybe chuckled.
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