Soil by Jamie Kornegay
Publisher: Simon & Schuster. March 10, 2015
Genre: Literary Fiction
First Line: The drought began in May and lasted three months.
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Soil should have been everything I've ever wanted. A young environmental scientist, Jay, is in dire straits after his farm in Mississippi floods and his wife and son leave him. His dreams of creating sustainable farming for the future/potential apocalyptic situations seemed ruined. And then, to make matters worse, he finds a dead body on his property. Naturally, he assumes someone is framing him. So he sets out to get rid of the body, and sinks deeper and deeper into self-perpetuating paranoia.
This debut novel impressed me with its no fear attitude; it dove into paranoid madness, weird sex, family dysfunction, and kind of race as well. My only problem with it was how it went about covering those topics. Right away at the beginning of the novel, Jay is already deep into his paranoia. It was definitely hard to understand where it came from, because we didn't see it develop. In that sense Jay became more of a caricature of a paranoid man. And, while this book is described as a dark comedy and perhaps that could have been part of Kornegay's intent, he just felt underdeveloped. There was a certain lack of motivation. Same goes for the sex addicted cop. The characters felt a little thrown together with little purpose. Granted, they were interesting and it was often entertaining to be in their heads. Jay's justifications for his crazy actions were winding in their logic and incredible to witness. Equally good: some characters didn't appear as major players until after a while and the way the chapters jumped around very slightly in time was brilliant.
The jarring character development and questionable purpose of the characters wouldn't normally have annoyed me all that much, but for some reason this book just dragged for me. It took me a week and a half to get through. There just wasn't enough driving Jay's paranoia for me to be able to race through it. It felt like I was constantly waiting for something to happen, which isn't a good sign.
Overall, this was a super original piece of gritty Southern literature. I had some qualms with the pacing and characters. The ending was a bit of a let down, but Kornegay is a talented writer with some interesting things going on in his brain. I'd be interested to see where he takes things next.
If dead animals or uncomfortable descriptions of sex aren't for you, maybe don't check this out.
Also, about the race thing. It was brought up several times, but never really explained. Or at least it didn't seem to factor into the end and it was never a large plot point? If anybody's read this book, please let me know your thoughts! It felt kind of thrown in, which is potentially troubling.
"The sun would rise and continue slurping up the lake, exposing the perception of a crime. Someone else had done this, but it belonged undoubtedly now to him."
"After society's collapse, men will be forced to do things that their civilized minds would never have imagined. Decency and decorum, the lives of others--all will be expendable in light of your own survival and that of your family."
"He burned it slow, a clue at a time, and then he'd sit back and stare off into the glow for a while, imagining that he'd always been destroying these things and that he would spend the rest of his life destroying them too, tending this sulfurous hell pit till kingdom come."
Outlandishness Rating: 7/10 Mud sex.