they don’t dance much – james ross

They Don’t Dance Much

I received this as an Advance Review Copy, which was a little misleading.  I read the blurb about it and remember thinking “This sounds like an old-fashioned Southern crime thriller”.

The truth is that the book (due for publication on 16th April) is actually just a reprint.  The book was originally released in 1940, and was (I believe) Ross’s only published book – a bit of a one-book wonder.

The story is set in a small North Carolina town during the Depression – the kind of town where everyone knows everyone and where there are complex shifts of power due to gossip, money and friendship.

The narrator of the story is Jack and starts when his land is repossessed for unpaid taxes, and then he drifts into working for his friend Smut Milligan as he embarks on a new venture to build a roadhouse.

Smut has a propensity for illicit dealings – moonshine, gambling and an eye for the girl married to one of the richest men in town.

The majority of the book is a kind of gentle narrative of life in that kind of town in the 1930’s, and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely.  There was then the turning point of the story, where Smut’s greed for money and power overtakes his common sense and morals, and Jack becomes embroiled in an event that he would much rather not have.

How the two of them deal with the fallout from this, Jack’s inner turmoil and his need for redemption carry the story through to its inevitable conclusion.

The book is a curious mixture of gentle innocence and harrowing violence that works extremely well, BUT you have to be prepared for the fact that it was published in 1940!

The use of the n-word throughout can only be expected given the time and location, and the derogatory picture of the black population and the somewhat ‘backward’ hicks is obviously not unusual when you consider it was written.

Reading it in 2013 however, some of the terminology jarred somewhat, and I found it quite difficult to ignore.  I know that this is a slightly unfair criticism, and that if you knew when the book was originally written before reading it, you would expect this kind of language, and adjust your mindset for it.  However, I kind of went into a little blind – which I realise is my own fault.

The story is excellent though, and I can imagine it making a great character-led film, as the characters are fantastic and really come to life.

If you can handle the ‘of-the-time’ language, and enjoy character stroies with not a lot of action, you’ll probably love this slice of American history!

They Don’t Dance Much will be (re)published on 16th April 2013.


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