Reviews > Published on March 14th, 2017

Bookshots: "The Vine That Ate The South" by J.D. Wilkes

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Vine That Ate The South

Who wrote it?

J.D. Wilkes, an author, visual artists, filmmaker, and frontman for the Legendary Shack Shakers.

Plot in a box:

Wilkes has a unique voice that sounds like the best dirty songs of a gun-toting madman obsessed with keeping listeners glued to his every word...This is a hell of a book...

A man gets help from a truly weird hillbilly guide and enters a forest known as The Deadening in a quest to find the bones of an old couple who were killed by kudzu and still hang from a tree.

Invent a new title for this book:

Vines and Haints

Read this if you like(d):

Books that walk a fine line between humor, literary fiction, and bizarro, Haints Stay by Colin Winnette, and the novels of Joe Lansdale.

Meet the book’s lead(s):

J.D., a man on a mission of love who wants to find a legendary house and the bones that come with it.

Carver Canute, a funny, fast-talking guide who also happens to be a criminal, superb storyteller, heavy drinker, vandal, and fighter, to name a few things.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

J.D. would be played by Daniel Radcliffe because, after Swiss Army Man, I wanna see him doing only weird movies. 

Carver Canute: Sid Haig.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The novel takes place in a weird forest inhabited by ghosts, haints, vampire cults, crazy folks with remote control-operated rifles, carnies who have hundreds of shrunken heads, and every demon known to man. Please, sign me up!

What was your favorite sentence/passage?

His hands are those of the olde village smithee: broad and calloused beneath a mist of simian hair. Meat hooks really, lacking any flair to express the emotion of speech. They were crafted by God for the sole purpose of upgrading ape to man. Undoubtedly, they could wrench the head off a jackrabbit or make mulch out of most men. His thumbnail is blackened from the wayward hammering of some masculine project. And the meat beneath his ruddy skin is permanently toughened from a life of machinery and mayhem. It has left him as oaken and gnarly as an antique cigar-store Indian—as if you could cut him in half, count his rings, and be left in a whiff of disturbed patina.

The Verdict:

I have to be honest: by now, I know that any Two Dollar Radio book I pick up is going to be great. Sure, that could change with their next book, but for the past few years, they have consistently published unique, bizarre novels that play with a plethora of genres and contribute to what has become an outstanding catalog. This one is no different. Wilkes has a knack for rhythm, humor, accents, and biblical language. More than a single story, this is the kind of narrative in which the main plot is merely a structure used to house a collection of narratives, all of them as strange and entertaining as the main plot. We follow the adventures of the two main characters, but also learn about everything and everyone in the forest, J.D.'s parents, the history of cryptozoological beasts in the South, and every bizarre individual J.D. and Carver encounter. Furthermore, the narrative moves forward at breakneck speed as the two men run, talk, jump, ride, and escape from one adventure right into the next. Then there's Carver, who would be worth the price of admission even if the whole book was him telling tall tales. He is a man of "faults—lying, drinking, cussing, fighting, trespassing, vandalism, and, well, murder," and all of that adds up to one of the most intriguing characters I've encountered so far in 2017. In fact, it's as if some reject from a Lansdale novel had decided to impersonate someone too strange and talkative for a nonexistent (and good!) Rob Zombie film.

While all of the things mentioned above are more than enough to make this a recommended read, what ultimatelye makes this a must-read is Wilkes' talent for spinning tales that collide but never overpower one another. Wilkes has a unique voice that sounds like the best dirty songs of a gun-toting madman obsessed with keeping listeners glued to his every word. This is a hell of a book, and it will undoubtedly become part of the list of best, and weirdest, Southern literary gems.

Get The Vine That Ate The South at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS, HUNGRY DARKNESS, and GUTMOUTH. His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist, Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbicide, and many other print and online venues. Y

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