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The Wettest County in the World: A Novel Based on a True Story


The Wettest County in the World: A Novel Based on a True Story Cover



Reading Group Guide

Questions For Discussion

1. Upon the death of his wife, Granville Bondurant says, "all the goodness has gone out of the world." What does he mean by his sentiments? How is each member of the remaining Bondurant family impacted by this death? How do they bear out Granville's sentiments?

2. Discuss the night that Forrest Bondurant's throat was cut at the County Line Restaurant? What do these events and the stories they spawned reveal about Forrest? Maggie? The community?

3. Discuss the symbolic significance of the opening sequence, the sow's slaughter. How does it relate to the novel's major themes?

4. Why do you think Matt Bondurant decided to make Sherwood Anderson, author of Winesburg, Ohio, one of the principal characters in the novel? What does Anderson allow the reader to understand about the Bondurants and the larger community in which they live? Discuss the parallels between this novel and Sherwood Anderson's own work.

5. Discuss the female characters in the novel. Discuss the role women place in this world? What do the women reveal about the men of Franklin County, particularly the three brothers?

6. How do the brothers and the people of Franklin County negotiate and make sense of their lives in relation to the natural world?

7. Jack thought of Howard as "some kind of machine or animal, reacting to the world in an instinctual manner." Why is this line of thought both comforting and frightening to Jack?

8. Explain the sequence of events that precipitates the Great Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935. What were the outcomes of the trial for the Bondurants?

9. What parallels does Anderson draw between the Bondurants' struggles and his own literary battles? Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?

10. What is the picture of the American psyche and way of life that emerges from Bondurant's story? What are the threats to this way of life? Where do you believe the author's sympathies lie? Where do yours?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Who is Sherwood Anderson? What does Bondurant intend for us to understand about his inclusion in the novel? Consult, which publishes an online version of Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, a group of short stories about small town life. What do his stories reveal about his point of view on the world? What do their narrative structure, style, and characterization allow us to understand about The Wettest County in the World?

2. Immerse yourself in the sounds of the era by purchasing and playing moonshine songs at your book club meeting. These songs tell their own tale of the moonshine lifestyle. You can listen to a sampling of the songs at these websites:

  • 3. Want to sample moonshine? You can acquire legal moonshine called Virginia Lightning for your book club meeting by visiting and ordering from

    4. Attend the 10th Annual Moonshiners Jamboree held on the first weekend of August 2008 in Climax, Virginia. The festival celebrates the region's history of moonshining with music, food, and displays of moonshine stills. Get directions and ticket information at

    What Our Readers Are Saying

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    Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

    Margie, November 20, 2008 (view all comments by Margie)
    Moonshine, the elixer of the mountains that fed families, brought death and prison sentences, and corrupted the law. I'm descended from moonshining families from the same region and am familiar with the stories, but another family's story is always new and interesting. Read it before the movie is made and you will be one step ahead of the pack.
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    Product Details

    A Novel Based on a True Story
    Bondurant, Matt
    Historical - General
    Suspense fiction
    Edition Description:
    Scribner Hardco
    Publication Date:
    Grade Level:
    9 x 6 in

    Related Subjects

    Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

    The Wettest County in the World: A Novel Based on a True Story
    0 stars - 0 reviews
    $ In Stock
    Product details 320 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9781416561392 Reviews:
    "Review" by , "Bondurant writes fiercely and passionately....We are aware from the first page that we are in the hands of a remarkable storyteller."
    "Review" by , "Descriptively gritty and emotionally resonant, novelist Bondurant dramatically projects the poverty and danger at the heart of the old-time bootlegging life."
    "Review" by , ""Bondurant is a nimble writer, especially when it comes to depicting gore and guts. His descriptions of the warped and wounded...can leave a reader queasy, but the liveliness of his writing makes it hard for even the most lily-livered to look away....Bondurant's prose is lyrical..."
    "Review" by , "This is a cracklingly good novel, with plenty of action and local color; it has already been picked up for movie treatment. Recommended."
    "Review" by , "Gritty, gripping depiction of very wild lives."
    "Review" by , "[E]ngrossing....[Bondurant is] wonderful at evoking historical atmosphere — the elaborate stills camouflaged in the woods, the music, the drunken gatherings that explode into shattering violence. (The book would make a teriffic HBO series.) (Grade: B)"
    "Review" by , "Brilliantly conceived, and so close to home, this novel proves Matt Bondurant's burgeoning talent — a book for thirsty American readers to guzzle down, a book for all young American writers to admire."
    "Review" by , "In his scintillating new novel, Matt Bondurant explores a crucial period in the history of Virginia and of his family. His gorgeous, precise prose brings to life an amazing cast of characters, including Sherwood Anderson, and the often deadly battles of Prohibition. The Wettest County in the World is a remarkably compelling, highly intelligent, and deeply moving novel."
    "Review" by , "Bondurant tells a distinctively American story. The gritty, suspenseful narrative gripped me and wouldn't let me go. It also touched my heart in all the right ways. Matt Bondurant's writing is as full of beauty as it is of verve and grit. Thank God it's legal to write so well."
    "Review" by , "Interweaving the bleak portraits of Walker Evans, the charged landscapes of Annie Dillard, and the breakneck plotting of Cormac McCarthy, Matt Bondurant mines his own family history to offer a novel that's both a gritty, fast-paced tale of bootleggers and car chases and a timeless hard-knock ballad, a myth fixed in the amber of one small community's imagination. The Wettest County in the World is a suspense story dashed to tintype smithereens, each one a jewel."
    "Synopsis" by , Bondurant weaves a compelling tale of violence, desperation, and greed, as three brothers run moonshine in Virginia during prohibition, in this story that is based on a true story about his grandfather and two uncles.
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