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The Wettest County in the World: a novel based on a true story by Matt Bondurant
This family saga follows the Bondurants, bootlegging brothers runnin’ stills, runnin’ loads, and runnin’ from the law in Depression-era Virginia. The book is mainly narrated through the experience of the youngest Bondurant, Jack (in truth, a grandfather of the author), and his family’s moonshine enterprise supplies the action in a plot that evokes the culture of distilling and distributing white lightning. To optimistic Jack, bootlegging is both a bond to his older brothers, Forrest and Howard, and a means to make cash to impress a girl. Forrest, by contrast, is taciturn and suspicious: the world is violent, and he meets it on that ground. Tender of the stills and imbiber from same, burly Howard is always ready to take on the Bondurants’ enemies, corrupt law officers. Wending through this conflict in flash-forward mode is novelist Sherwood Anderson, who plumbs the Bondurant story a few years after the brothers’ climactic confrontation with the county sheriff. Descriptively gritty and emotionally resonant, novelist Bondurant dramatically projects the poverty and danger at the heart of the old-time bootlegging life.
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. Howard, the eldest brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; Forrest, the middle brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; 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.