A New Niche in Southern Fiction
I decided I wasn't going to review this book, because I've recently reviewed another by this author, but I had to blog about it anyway. Not since Walter Moseley's Easy Rawlins books have I felt like I was reading a writer who created his own sub-genre, or niche in fiction. In 'Blacktop Wasteland', just as in his second novel, 'Razorblade Tears', S.A. Cosby not only wrote intriguing characters with whip-smart dialogue and plots that move at the speed of lightning, he introduced us to a world we might not have been familiar with. Rural, poor, hardscrabble lives, lived by Black men who are trying desperately to do right, who love and are loved but are sometimes forced by circumstances back into the shadier parts of their past.
In this one, the main protagonist, Beauregard Montage, or "Bug" is almost cornered by his financial difficulties, into revisiting his risky former occupation as a wheelman on robberies. The caper itself and the chaos that ensues is entertaining but also interesting is the world that Cosby introduces us to where almost everyone is simply getting by, and most aren't even doing that. Where people die premature deaths either through violence or ill health. Where those who are prosperous may only be so because they won a small fortune gambling or in the lottery, or came across an unexpected windfall either through legal or illegal means. Where everyone has big talk about escaping their poor community but most can't face the task (or don't have the means) to go farther than one county over. With his two novels I think Cosby has created his own niche in Southern fiction--the characters are mostly Black but co-existing and uncomfortably mixing with similarly desperate whites, living in small, small worlds where doing wrong is often not a moral choice, but a survival necessity, where good men do very bad things, and we sympathize with them. I don't think I've read anything like his work in forever. I recommend it, if you haven't had a chance yet to pick one of his books up and challenge you to think about not just the story it tells about the characters, but also the story it tells about America.