An Army officer betrayed in Kentucky’s ‘Killing Hills’

Of course, it’s unlikely that no one else will be killed in a novel called “The Killing Hills,” by a writer known for his harsh portrayal of men, for whom revenge against the offenders is not optional. But Offut’s deep concern appears to be for the region itself, a “hillbilly allegation” uniquely its own for its paradoxical mix of geographic beauty and economic distress, characterized by decades of portrayal of Appalachia, where “death of despair“Gone Normal. The Velocity of “The Killing Hills” doesn’t allow for too much detail or nuance, but the theme is hit hard:

“Everywhere, people live a little more every year. Our lives are getting shorter on average. This is not happening anywhere else in the country. Twenty years ago it had a longer life span.”

“The hills are killing us.”

Although Hardin provides the main perspective in the bookhandjob And its moral compass, another, self-aware voice often interferes with the anthropologist’s knowing air: “Mick had known Honey his whole life. … Each generation looked the same: a set of shoulders. with a fireplace mantel, powerful arms and strong legs through the torso. Their heads were more rounded than tall. All had stoic expressions and a single shed of unruly hair that started red, quickly turned gray and ended I turned white.

Hardin takes care to introduce himself as “Jimmy Hardin’s guy, Mick” to allay suspicion among gun-toting outsiders. The farther away from the small town of Rocksalt (pop. 7,500), the greater the fear of the mountain people:

“Most of the Mullins he knew lived deep in the hills on high hills. Such a location usually meant a strong desire to live away from the city. Again, they may have been the Melungian people who descended from those early settlers. who already lived in the hills when Daniel Boone arrived.No one now calls them Melungians, not even themselves, but families were considered infamous.

The characters in “The Killing Hills” are comically named: Face Fatkin, Shifty Littleton, Cricket, Junebug, Sheetrock, Doodle, Ricketts. Marquis Sledge is a funeral director; Murville Knox is a “cobble operator … as slippery as a sliced ​​watermelon.” One sequence involves a live mule being tied up by eyeballs to replace a porch post holding up the roof of a hill dweller’s house: “A chain attached to the bridle held the mule’s head steady. One on its back There was a wooden chair held in an upright position by a flank cinch. The top rail of the chair supported the end of the porch.” Is this a comedy? caricature? reportage? It is difficult to write about marginalized areas of America without unintentionally condescending, or worse, contemptuous; offt, who has it recognize yourself “As a country boy who has made his way through the hills of eastern Kentucky, one of the toughest social climbs in America,” he navigates this sensitive terrain with skill and a measure of respect for his subject. is.

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