Author: Anthony Knott
Genre: Fiction / Southern Gothic / Crime
This novel reads somewhat like a memoir or a snapshot of the past. The summer in Tennessee enters as almost another character to the story of young Rodney, a boy tottering on the brink of puberty. He’s interested in everything and regularly writes down what he hears, but he struggles to know what to do after witnessing a series of disturbing events committed by an older, local boy adept at violence and threats.
Every year, Rodney leaves New York City with his mother to visit his relatives in a small town full of prejudices, opinions, religion, and forth-rightness. Everyone discusses everything, and the adults regularly say and do things in front of the “cousins.” Special reports, recent crimes, scandals, and medical procedures are all mentioned with alacrity, though specific details are glossed over.
The narration is from Rodney’s point-of-view, and the story has a slow, thoughtful pace that correlates to this young man—an insightful, sensitive soul who is liked by most, though he does have certain worrisome enemies that make his summer difficult.
Ramonst falls on the fringe edge of Crime Fiction, if it even belongs in that genre. Though a number of crimes occur, there is no mystery as to “who-dunnit” and the story isn’t about bringing the criminal to justice. Rather, it centers on how Rodney will survive the criminal’s threats if he tells anyone what he knows.
At times, the story flows along as lazily as a summer river, discussing baseball cards and drive-ins and mule-pulls without any concern about veering away from the “plot” of the crime and its consequences, and it can feel slow, plodding, and unstructured because of this.
Also, there were a few times when the sentences were vague and confusing. While some spelling errors contributed to this, the euphemisms employed by the narrator primarily generated this. Most of the time, there are no explanations, and certain processes, like Nana’s swallowing her tube, are never elucidated even though they happen during the story.
Even though Rodney falls under the Young Adult age, this story isn’t one of coming-of-age and growing up. Instead, it celebrates summers in the south, and will appeal to those who enjoy literary fiction more than fast-paced crime-solving or adventure.
Not a story for the weak-stomached, the tale plunges into violence, crime, and sexuality with a blunt coarseness that lends a very real dimension to the narration while making the novel primarily appropriate for adult readers. Ramonst offers readers a dark, believable story from the south, its gritty realism balanced by the generally-optimistic outlook of youth. Featuring realistic characterization, the story flows at a steady yet relaxed pace, where events happen much as they would in real life. It paints a portrait of a certain time and place without being overly-sentimental or judgmental, avoiding any discussion of good or bad, right or wrong. It just retells things as they were, or might’ve been, giving readers a portal to a vision of the past with all its flaws and pleasures.
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