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The Line That Held Us


The Line That Held Us

I set aside all else when a new book by David Joy is published. His prose, characters and plotting are consistently magnificent. THE LINE THAT HELD US, his third novel (after the much-acclaimed WHERE ALL LIGHT TENDS TO GO and the unforgettable THE WEIGHT OF THIS WORLD), once again returns readers to the dark, harsh world of the Appalachian Mountains and its people who Joy knows intimately.

The plot is complex but not complicated. Darl Moody is involved in poaching --- hunting deer out of season --- while trespassing on Coon Coward’s land while the owner is absent. He justifies both transgressions based on need, though it is evident that he is taking a shortcut. His actions end tragically when he accidentally shoots Sissy Brewer, the impoverished scion of a notoriously dangerous Appalachian family who is also trespassing on Coward’s land while hunting for ginseng. In a panic, Darl recruits his best friend, Calvin Hooper, to hide Sissy’s body, a task to which Calvin reluctantly but wholeheartedly acquiesces.

"This is a tale breathtaking in its violence and beauty, as well as the depth of emotions that it plumbs."

Dwayne Brewer, Sissy’s brother, goes looking for him when he does not return from his clandestine ginseng harvesting. Dwayne’s limited resources consist of an animal cunning, a fearsome temper, and the borrowing of a bit of technology from an unexpected source. He is also a multi-layered soul who is not above distributing some appropriate rough justice to a bully in a local Walmart. While Dwayne is not smart in the manner of which such things are usually defined, he is clever and forcefully manipulative. In short order, he is able to track his brother’s disappearance first to Darl, then to Calvin, and to Calvin’s girlfriend, Angie, who has her own secret that she is keeping close to her heart.

Dwayne’s plan is simple enough. He is going to exact a revenge of biblical Old Testament inspiration, one that will turn the lives of those who did his brother wrong, by accident and intent, with a straightforward and terrible finality. His actions, as unjustifiable as they might be, are understandable up to a finite point, given that his brother was virtually all he had. However, his revenge quickly spirals out of control and reverberates across the small and closely held impoverished community where he has lived all of his life. Calvin, whose greatest crime is his loyalty to a friend, soon finds that his late-night deed is about to rain down violence upon those whom he cherishes most, even as Dwayne’s actions become more unstable and uncontrollable.

The enigmatic conclusion to THE LINE THAT HELD US is by turns preordained --- practically from the first page of this remarkable work --- and unexpected. The only thing that is assured from the beginning of the book to the end is that things will become progressively worse for those involved, including a pair of... But that would be telling. This is a tale breathtaking in its violence and beauty, as well as the depth of emotions that it plumbs.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 17, 2018

The Line That Held Us
by David Joy

  • Publication Date: July 9, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0425280284
  • ISBN-13: 9780425280287