Joe

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Reviews of Joe (1 review)

4 - Good Review

Reviewer:

If you like Daniel Woodrell, and you're not into Larry Brown, Joe is a good place to start, and definitely read it before you read the sort-of sequel and Brown's masterpiece, Fay. Here, we meet the Jones family, traveling on foot for God knows how many miles. There is Wade, the father, a far-gone alcoholic psychopath; his wife, missing most of her marbles; and his three children, Gary, Fay and Dorothy. The family own almost nothing beyond the clothes they wear, and find themselves squatting in an abandoned shack Wade thinks is part of his family's legacy. They survive on Dumpster-diving, foraging and stealing, and Wade keeps most of it for himself while the kids go hungry. Fairly early on, Fay runs away, and not heard from again until the book which bears her name. At some point, fifteen-year-old Gary makes the acquaintance of Joe, a rough, but ultimately kind man who leads a crew of workers who go through the pine forests, poisoning the trees so the lumber company can come in and cut them down. Joe is a hard drinker, a spectator of dog fights and frequenter of backwoods whorehouses, many tangles with the law, but treats most everyone with respect, and takes Gary under his wing (at one point, Gary asks if he can buy a smoke from him, and Joe says, "No you can't, I'll give you one, but friends don't take money from each other"). Gary gets on with the crew, but Wade simultaneously punishes Gary for working and takes the money he earns. Finally, good and evil collide, in the persons of Joe and Wade, respectively, in a disastrous confrontation, although Joe is motivated as much by his own personal vendetta as by his concern for Gary. The story is relentlessly bleak and morose, but occasionally shot through with dark humor (the scene where Wade steals booze from a liquor store; Joe buying Gary his first hooker). But even the latter scene has its grim elements, as we learn that Gary is not only utterly clueless about women, but his circumstances have been so dire that he has never before brushed his teeth (much to the girl's consternation). And there is seemingly no end to Wade's cruelty. In the end, Gary seems to be on his way, but due to his innocence and almost total lack of role models, we are left with serious doubts as to how he'll end up.