BOOK: The Wettest County In The World

From the John C. and Olive Campell Collection Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina

I went hunting for moonshine once. Tooling around the backroads of southeast Alabama, with bright splashes of sunlight playing peekaboo from beyond the tippy tops of tall pine trees. We zoomed past the spot where the glittering sign once stood for the Big Daddy Club, a makeshift juke joint set up like a tent revival in the open space of a dirt yard in front of someone’s trailer home. We ate lunch a bit earlier at a meat n’ three in Hurtsboro and went to visit with some outsider artists in their humble and tidy unmarked homes. Yes yes all interesting stuff but we were looking for moonshine so kept on rolling along until we got to the rickety shack of an old bluesman….but his still had run dry.

Reading about Matt Bondurant‘s new book, The Wettest County In The World, got me remembering my almost brush with white lightnin’. But Bondurant’s tale, albeit “a novel based on a true story,” is the real deal. Sounds like some good holiday reading to me!

From Scribner: Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant’s grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. The Bondurant Boys were a notorious gang of roughnecks and moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition and in the years after. Forrest, the eldest brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; Howard, the middle brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; and Jack, the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin. Driven and haunted, these men forge a business, fall in love, and struggle to stay afloat as they watch their family die, their father’s business fail, and the world they know crumble beneath the Depression and drought.

White mule, white lightning, firewater, popskull, wild cat, stump whiskey, or rotgut — whatever you called it, Franklin County was awash in moonshine in the 1920s. When Sherwood Anderson, the journalist and author of Winesburg, Ohio, was covering a story there, he christened it the “wettest county in the world.” In the twilight of his career, Anderson finds himself driving along dusty red roads trying to find the Bondurant brothers, piece together the clues linking them to “The Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy,” and break open the silence that shrouds Franklin County.

In vivid, muscular prose, Matt Bondurant brings these men — their dark deeds, their long silences, their deep desires — to life. His understanding of the passion, violence, and desperation at the center of this world is both heartbreaking and magnificent.

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