Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Bondurant writes fiercely and passionately....We are aware from the first page that we are in the hands of a remarkable storyteller." San Francisco Chronicle
"Descriptively gritty and emotionally resonant, novelist Bondurant dramatically projects the poverty and danger at the heart of the old-time bootlegging life." Booklist
""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..." Louisa Thomas, New York Times Book Review
"This is a cracklingly good novel, with plenty of action and local color; it has already been picked up for movie treatment. Recommended." Library Journal
"Gritty, gripping depiction of very wild lives." Kirkus Reviews
"[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)" Entertainment Weekly
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.
About the Author
Matt Bondurant is the author of three novels, the most recent of which is The Night Swimmer. Lawless—previously published as The Wettest County in the World—was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and one of the San Francisco Chronicle’s 50 Best Books of the Year. His first novel, The Third Translation, was an international bestseller, translated into fourteen languages worldwide. He currently teaches literature and writing in the Arts and Humanities graduate program at the University of Texas at Dallas.
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 www.bartleby.com/156/, 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 www.virginiamoonshine.com/vaLightning.html.
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 www.moonshinersjamboree.com