'The Line That Held Us': Noir In Appalachia

8 hours ago
Originally published on August 12, 2018 4:35 pm

David Joy's new novel The Line That Held Us begins with a terrible accident.

Darl Moody is looking to poach a deer in the woods, when he accidentally kills another man — Carol Brewer, who is himself poaching for ginseng roots. Both are "working-class rural people who are just kind of doing what they have to do in order to survive," as David Joy says in an interview.

That shooting leads to a cover-up that spins out of control. Along the way, we meet a fascinating and ferocious character: Dwayne Brewer is a giant of a man who will not rest until his brother Carol's death is avenged.

The book is set in Appalachia, where Joy lives. In fact, we spoke to him last year about his essay "Digging in the Trash," where he lamented the misportrayal of rural Southerners. Like his nonfiction essay, his new work of fiction is personal to him.

"I think a lot of times, rural working-class people are stripped of their humanity, and I'm very much trying to give that humanity back," Joy says. "On the other side of that is that I'm trying to document some of the things that I think are disappearing. I think that we're within a generation of a lot of the old mountain ways being gone."


Interview Highlights

On the importance of family and friends in this setting, with respect to Darl's best friend Calvin Hooper

One thing that's kind of indicative of this area is that family is an incredibly important thing. People are still very much rooted to family and rooted to place. And so this is not just your everyday friendship, this is very much — it might as well be his sibling, it might as well be blood. And so when [Darl] calls on Calvin Hooper, Calvin would have done anything in the world for Darl. And so very early on, we've got this relationship building where the question is: How much do you love someone, you know? How much are you willing to risk in order to protect the ones you love?

You know, as far as the character who grows the most over the course of the book, it's very much Calvin. And that growth comes about because Dwayne forces him to make that decision. He forces him to realize who he loves selflessly.

On the memorable character Dwayne Brewer

Dwayne Brewer and his brother Carol grew up kind of in an abusive home, and he also — he grew up at the very, very bottom-most levels of poverty to the point that kids at school made fun of him because of the shoes he wore, or they made fun of him because [of] where his mother worked. Dwayne has always protected his brother because Dwayne, he's a lot more physical, a lot more violent than Carol ever was, you know. Carol was very much a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy, and Dwayne was much more a grab-you-by-the-throat.

But I think what makes Dwayne so interesting is that he's the antagonist, but he has a very strict moral code that he's following. One of the scariest things that can happen with a bad guy when you find yourself completely agreeing with him — you know, when they make total sense. And I think there are multiple places in this novel where you find yourself nodding your head to the things that Dwayne thinks, and the things that Dwayne does.

On the fetishization of Southern Gothic or Southern noir literature, and its relevance to the current political moment

Yea, I've talked about that as well in the sense that I cannot imagine any American writer creating anything right now where you don't have violence, where you don't have misogyny, where you don't have racism, where you don't have xenophobia, where you don't have a perversion of faith. I think it's impossible for anyone to look at what's going on around us right now and ignore those things, you know. And writers and artists are very much sponges, you know — we soak up everything. And so I do think that's one of the reasons that that's so prevalent in my work.

And then at the same time, you know, I think it's also always kind of been — those have been major themes in Appalachian literature and in Southern literature — and Appalachian culture. I mean, when I think about the old murder ballads that they played in bluegrass, it was that same type of thing, those same types of stories. That history — I'm not sure why that history exists. But as far as how it relates to what's happening nationally right now, I think maybe it's more pertinent right this second than it's ever been.

Peter Breslow and Evie Stone produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

David Joy's new novel begins with a terrible accident. Darl Moody is looking to poach a deer in the woods when he accidentally kills another man, Carol Brewer, who is poaching himself rooting around for ginseng. That shooting leads to a cover-up that spins out of control. Along the way, we learn about the struggles of life in rural Appalachia. And we meet a fascinating and ferocious character Dwayne Brewer, a giant of a man who will not rest until his brother Carol's death is avenged. David Joy's book is called "The Line That Held Us." And he joins us now from Blue Ridge Public Radio in Asheville, N.C. Welcome back to the program.

DAVID JOY: Yeah. Thanks for having me again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This world is so vivid. It's populated by people who are living on the margins. Tell us about the characters we first meet, Darl Moody, who accidentally shoots Carol Brewer.

JOY: Yeah. Darl Moody and Carol Brewer are both, you know, working-class, rural people who are just kind of doing what they have to do to survive. Darl Moody's coming out of a family. His father's gone. And he very much feels a responsibility to take care of not only his mother but to take care of his sister and her children, as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a world where family and friends are deeply important, which is how Darl Moody's best friend Calvin Hooper gets pulled in to help hide the killing. And Calvin's sort of torn about what he should do.

JOY: One thing that's kind of indicative of this area is that people are still very much rooted to family and rooted to place. And so this is not just your everyday friendship. This is very much - it might as well be his sibling. It might as well be blood. And so when he calls on Calvin Hooper, Calvin would have done anything in the world for Darl. And so very early on, you know, we've got this relationship building where the question is, how much do you love someone, you know? How much of yourself are you willing to risk in order to protect the ones you love?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's sort of the central question of this book. I think I've waited long enough to bring in the man whom I suspect will be most readers' favorite character in the book. And that's Dwayne Brewer. He is Carol Brewer's brother - who was killed. Tell us a little bit about his backstory, who he is.

JOY: Dwayne Brewer and his brother Carol grew up kind of in an abusive home. And he also - he grew up at the very, very bottommost levels of poverty to the point that, you know, kids at school made fun of him because of the shoes he wore. Or they made fun of him because his - where his mother worked. And Dwayne has always protected his brother, you know, because Dwayne - he's a lot more physical. He's a lot more violent than Carol ever was. You know, Carol was very much a turn-the-other-cheek-type of guy. And when Dwayne looks back on his life, there's not really anything good that he can look back on except for his relationship with his brother. And he's always felt this dire need to protect his brother. You know, I think that's ultimately what eats him alive over the course of this novel - was the fact that he couldn't protect him.

But I think what makes Dwayne so interesting - is that he's the antagonist, but he has a very strict moral code that he's following. One of the scariest things that can happen with a bad guy is when you find yourself completely agreeing with them, you know, when they make total sense. And I think there are multiple places in this novel where you find yourself nodding your head to do the things that Dwayne thinks and the things that Dwayne does.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've written about this area before. These are your people. You know, as a matter of fact, you and I spoke last year about your essay "Digging In The Trash," in which you kind of lament about how rural Southerners are often portrayed. This seems to be sort of very personal for you.

JOY: Yeah. I think it is. And I think part of that just has to do with the misportrayal that happens oftentimes. I think a lot of times, rural, working-class people are stripped of their humanity. And I'm very much trying to give that humanity back. Another side of that, I think, is that I'm trying to document some of the things that I think are disappearing. You know, I think that we're within a generation of a lot of the old mountain ways being gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, this novel is part of a grand Southern tradition, once called Southern gothic, now called Southern noir. And I guess the South Appalachia, this tradition of men on the land, you know, with guns that you write about, you know, hunting to survive - it's been so fetishized now in our popular discourse. These characters, though, are very nuanced. It seems very pertinent to this political moment.

JOY: Yeah. You know, I've talked about that as well in the sense that, you know, I cannot imagine any American writer creating any anything right now where you don't have violence, where you don't have misogyny, where you don't have racism, where you don't have xenophobia, where you don't have a perversion of faith. I think it's impossible for anyone to look at what's going on around us right now and ignore those things, you know? And writers and artists are very much sponges, you know? We soak up everything. And so I do think that's one of the reasons that that's so prevalent in my work.

And then, at the same time, you know, I think it's also always kind of been - those have been major themes in Appalachian literature and in Southern literature and Appalachian culture. I mean, when I think about, you know, the old murder ballads that they played in bluegrass, it was that same type of thing, those same types of stories. And that history - I'm not sure why that history exists. But as far as how it relates to what's happening nationally right now, I think maybe it's more pertinent right this second than it's ever been.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Joy's new novel is called "The Line That Held Us." Thank you so much.

JOY: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOUNTAIN HOLLOW MUSIC'S "APPALACHIAN RAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.