Just in time for the holidays, here’s a heartwarming story of a Kentucky man who passed out in a Wal-mart bathroom, with a sack full of meth ingredients slung across his shoulder. Was it his intent to turn the bathroom into a meth lab? You decide. Sewerville.
Although I promised to tell you why I wrote Sewerville, the truth, I’m sorry to say, is that I can’t – not precisely, anyway. There are a lot of bricks in the road that led me to this particular story and on any given day, you could ask me which was most important in the telling and I’d say, “THIS is THE reason.” But then the next day comes, and something else sticks out as THE reason. And the next day brings another something. And the next day brings another something. And the next day brings, yes, another something.
I’m not one of those guys who wants to sit back and let each audience member plant his or her own flag on the story. I want to at least point you in the same direction that I started; you might take off on your own from there, follow your own map — your experiences, your reference points — and end up someplace altogether different, and that’s perfect by me, but still we can at least agree to start in the same place. I don’t really think it’s fair to either of us if you pick up Sewerville without some basic idea of my intentions in telling the story. From there, feel free to interpret, and theorize, and and fill in literary blanks to your heart’s content. I want you to do that.
When I started out, I just thought I’d give folks a story. Fast pace, solid action — the Goods. I think I’ve done that, too, but as almost always happens, in the course of writing the story, the story began writing itself. And as the story wrote itself, it began showing me things I didn’t really expect. In the end, there were some major themes that took hold, and by the time the novel was finished, I realized that if I were being honest I would say these themes were really the reason I wrote the book:
1) Family. Specifically, I became interested in exploring the idea that family, in the end, is the only thing some of us (maybe all of us) have in this world. Family becomes like a metal stake in the ground, driven through a chain that leads to a collar around your neck. Sometimes it keeps you from going where you want. Sometimes it keeps you from wandering too far. Sometimes that chain saves your ass, sometimes you wonder if it’s gonna send you to the grave, and sometimes you just want to rip the damn thing out and throw it across the highway.
2) Memories, truth, and liminal spaces. I am forever haunted by the idea of how memories and lies dance in the air like so much smoke, looping around each other, moving together and coming apart, twisting through themselves until we’re not sure what is truth and what became truth because we weren’t really sure what happened anymore back in the shadows of our lives. Because we don’t really know. Because we don’t want to know.
I had a Literature class in college where we talked a lot about liminal spaces — the spaces between one thing and another that aren’t much a part of either. I find that fascinating, and I offer the notion that more than one character in Sewerville feels trapped in a liminal space.
3) Drugs. More specifically, meth and prescription pills, which I consider to be the twin scourges of modern rural America. How many of us know someone — or in all honesty are that someone — who’ve seen body and spirit torn asunder by one of these plagues or, fuck me, both of them?
4) Loss. The protagonist in Sewerville often envisions the whole town sinking into a steaming pit. He believes that the place has lost its moral center in a hellstorm of violence, drugs, and poverty. But in another sense, you could say that he believes that his own center is gone, too, and the sense of despair is really just misdirected. It’s really his own life that he sees falling into the pit. Does he end up there? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
And so. I don’t want to give away too much of the story right here, right now. I think it’s a journey you will enjoy, and I’d just as soon see you get on with it. I would hope it’s a book that you consider heartfelt, honest, and thought-provoking. Those of you who know me best — and who grew up in the same place I did — will no doubt find plenty of reference to familiar places, little Easter eggs to make you smile, that will give the story just that little extra nudge. Those of you that don’t know me as well can still take heart: there’s a whole story in there for you. You won’t miss anything. I promise.
So later this week, have at it. And tell all your friends…
Family. Truth. Vengeance. Crime. Poverty. Violence. Family. Hope. Meth. Pills. Life. Death. Family.
Sewerville explores a lot of different topics, but now that I’m ready to share this story with you, I want to say that for me, it is about family above all else — the families into which we’re born, and the families into which we grow during the course of our lives.
The story itself unfolds in fictional Sewardville, Kentucky, a place not unlike those small, rural towns we all know so well, with convenience stores and fast-food restaurants lining Main Street and not much else going on besides that. The mayor of Sewardville — Walt Slone — also happens to be the head of one of the largest criminal operations in the Southeast USA; his son John is the sheriff. The Slone family manages a lucrative gambling and prostitution operation, while also running guns and pain pills on trucks from Florida to New York.
About the only thing thing they haven’t gotten into yet is meth. In the mayor’s words, “Meth was seedy, evil, an abomination cooked up by miscreants… Meth was ruin. The Slone family wanted no part of ruin.” The competition sees it differently: for them, meth is the present, and the future. Meth is easy, and the market is bottomless. It may leave behind a horrific wasteland of zombies with oozing skin and black teeth, but so what?
Against this backdrop, the story descends into one of the darkest and seldom-seen corners of America. The true protagnist of the story is Boone Sumner, the son-in-law who married into the Slone family business and has regretted it ever since. When Boone finds himself tasked with the clean-up after his older brother Jimmy runs afoul of the Slone empire, Boone finally decides it’s time to get out of Sewardville and take his young daughter with him.
Torn between murder and in-laws, seeking escape from both, Boone launches a serpentine plot that sets the Slone family against Walt’s ambitious young rival, with Boone in the middle and his own demons never too far away. As his mother tells him, “It’s all just wickedness… Right there. In your heart. In your dark heart, the heart of the devil.” Sewerville is Boone’s story — his fight to prove her wrong.
[Coming next in Part II of What is Sewerville: why did I write this, and more importantly, what’s in it for you?]