Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Wettest County in the World

The Wettest County in the World - A Novel Based on a True Story by Matt Bondurant.  Pub Oct 2008

Hot off the presses!  This is a gripping read for those interested in the illicit likker of the early years in the backroads and hills of Franklin County Virginia.  Known as the "Moonshine Capitol of The United States."  

I picked this book up and had a difficult time putting it down - I highly recommend this book.  Bootleggers, corruption and the so-called simple-days lead to the biggest moonshine conspiracy trial ever, right here, in this town, around the corner from the Claiborne House B&B. 

I found the best price ($15) to purchase this riveting book is from Amazon.com Hardcover book retails for $25. 

Here is a review of The Wettest County in the 
World by Mr C on Amazon.com

To dismiss the infamous Bondurant brothers as simply country bootleggers would be selling them short....and risking your life. 

They had carved a nice living as moonshiners in Franklin County, Virginia, but that is not even half of the story. Each played a role in the criminal success story due to very unique personalities; Jack was always angling to strike it rich through a big score, Howard was a haunted veteran of World War I who enjoyed drinking the hard stuff as much as marketing it and Forrest was a tough as they came - he had a deep neck scar to prove it - once walking nearly 12 miles in the snow to receive medical assistance for a slit throat. 

But when the trio refuses to pay "security" money to police, it leads to an even more wild ride in the turf wars where only the strongest could survive to fight another day, where the battles during the waning years of the Great Depression included shootings, knifings, beatings, shakedowns and brutal types of revenge that were fates worse than death for men. 

Author Matt Bondurant chronicles these turbulent times of his grandfather and two granduncles in this novel that is based on the true story of their lives and the ripping apart of the veil that covered the lawlessness through a 1935 conspiracy trial which took down many players, but found journalist Sherwood Anderson chasing the shadows of the brothers to get to the heart of the story while attempting to break the county code of silence found within this vicious game. 

Through dialogue and gripping scenes that are not for the faint of heart, Matt Bondurant brings to life an era where big city gangsters may have captured the national headlines, but these rural areas packed a gangland cruelty that was especially brutal. And that Matt Bondurant is talking about family makes this story even more compelling.

I love historical fiction, particularly historical fiction set in the South, and I loved this novel by Ma
tt Bondurant. Based on the true story of Mr. Bondurant's grandfather & two grand uncles, the story is set in Depression-era Franklin County, Western Virginia. I found the story riveting - so much so, I literally could not put the book down, reading it in one day, staying up until 2:00 AM to finish it. 

Mr. Bondurant's writing style reminded me of Cormac McCarthy in "No Country For Old Men" - stark, brutal & violent - yet, somehow also lyrical & almost poetic. The author doesn't gloss over any gruesome details for the sake of his family honor. At the center of the story is moonshine, family honor, and a desperate will to survive in the toughest of social and economic times. The story is woven expertly, drawing the reader in with it's drama and mystery. 

As stated before, the story is based on real characters, but only in a macro sense - the detail is fiction (in an epilogue, Mr. Bondurant forthrightly details what parts of the story are facts and what aren't - as well as what happened to the main characters in real life after the time frame of the events in the book). The narrative can be a little hard to follow, switchi
ng between the late 1920's / early 1930's (when the main story takes place) and the mid 1930's, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. 

If you enjoy historical fiction, or any fiction set in the Depression-era South, and have a stomach for true-to-life brutality, I cannot recommend this book enough. 

Review (From Amazon.com)
"Bondurant tells a distinctively American story. The gritty, suspenseful narrative gripped me and wouldn't let me go. It also touched my heart in all the right ways. Matt Bondurant's writing is as full of beauty as it is of verve and grit. Thank God it's legal to write so well."-- Lee Martin, author of River of Heavenand The Bright Forever

"In his scintillating new novel, Matt Bondurant explores a crucial period in the history of Virginia and of his family. His gorgeous, precise prose brings to life an amazing cast of characters, including Sherwood Anderson, and the often deadly battles of Prohibition. The Wettest County in the World is a remarkably compelling, highly intelligent, and deeply moving novel."-- Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street and Eva Moves the Furniture

"Bondurant endows this gritty story with all the puzzle-solving satisfactions of a mystery. It's a gripping, relentless tale, delivered in no-nonsense prose." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Brilliantly conceived, and so close to home, this novel proves 
Matt Bondurant's burgeoning talent -- a book for thirsty American readers to guzzle down, a book for all young American writers to admire."-- Alan Cheuse, author of The

"Bondurant writes fiercely and passionately. Severe violence, thrillingly rendered, pervades this book, which will remind readers of hard-hitting Southern writers such as Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown. ....The story Bondurant has to tell is riveting, detailed and historical. His knowledge of Southern culture is as deep as his ancestors' knowledge of making whiskey. We are aware from the first page that we are in the hands of a remarkable storyteller." -- San Francisco Chronicle

Read the rest of the 40+ reviews here.

After you read the book please consider a road trip to these hills of The Blue Ridge Mountains.  Many of the places mentioned in the book are still here - The Hub Restaurant is directly behind The Claiborne House Bed and Breakfast, the Franklin County Courthouse (where the other half of this Innkeeping team is employed - Franklin County) is two blocks from us, the roads and stores and places mentioned in this intriguing tale are mostly still here.  

Yet lips are indeed tightly sealed, and folks do stare off into the distance as if seeing something afar off.   It is not a history many claim to be proud of, this is what I call the buckle on the Bible Belt, so you won't hear much talk about this book, but nonetheless it is real history in these parts.
Life is too short for bad coffee... Shellie  The Claiborne House Bed and Breakfast in Rocky Mount, Virginia http://www.claibornehouse.net/

Addtl Photo credits to www.rootsweb.ancestry.com

I finished this book and said aloud to no one in particular – this book has ten times more drama than any movie I have ever seen.  This has got to be made into a movie!  I went to the author Matt Bondurant’s website and found this in the news section.  This book has created such a buzz!  I surely hope they consider the Claiborne House B&B to participate as the “Boarding House” for the character/writer Sherwood Anderson.

Sony Travels To The "Wettest County" (From Dark Horizons)


Sony Pictures has pre-emptively picked up the rights to Matt Bondurant's upcoming book "The Wettest County in the World" reports the trades.

The historical crime drama is based on the author's grandfather and two grand-uncles - three infamous brothers who made up a fierce criminal gang at the center of the American South's moonshine trade. 

The brothers eventually were shot in December 1930 after they refused to join the illegal cartel set up by the Commonwealth's attorney Carter Lee, grandnephew of Robert E. Lee. Carter Lee subsequently was tried for conspiracy. 

Writer Sherwood Anderson was on the trail of the bootlegging story for both Liberty magazine and researching his own novel "Kit Brandon." 'Wettest' follows not only the brothers but Anderson's attempts to get inside the Mafia-like violence and double dealing in what turned into the biggest bootlegging conspiracy the country ever saw. 

No writer is on board to adapt the project, but John Hillcoat ("The Proposition," "The Road") is attached to direct. 


Columbia, Red Wagon get 'Wettest' (From Variety)

John Hillcoat to direct moonshine gang movie


Columbia Pictures has preemptively snapped up Matt Bondurant's upcoming novel "The Wettest County in the World" for Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher to produce through their Red Wagon shingle. 

John Hillcoat, who's shooting the bigscreen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy "The Road," is attached to direct. 

Based on a true story, "Wettest County in the World" revolves around a moonshine gang operating in the bootlegging capital of America -- Franklin County, Va. -- during Prohibition. 

The novel, to be published by Scribner/Simon and Schuster in October, draws its roots from Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, who made up a fierce criminal gang at the center of the country's moonshine trade. The three brothers were eventually killed in 1930 after they refused to join the illegal cartel set up by Commonwealth's Attorney Carter Lee, grandnephew of Robert E. Lee. Carter Lee was subsequently tried for conspiracy. 

Col prexy Matt Tolmach said the book "is beautifully observed and has a very distinctive, strong narrative voice in the tradition of some of the best American novels." This kind of material, he added, "is rare and doesn't come along very often."

Hillcoat's credits include period Western "The Proposition." 

News Break:   HISTORY IN THE MAKING - Due to an amendment in the state law, it is now legal to buy moonshine in the state of Virginia.  This is the first time the state has ever allowed it.  Nowhere near The Claiborne House, but about 3 hours North of us up Interstat 81 you can see a live copper distillery and sample some corn whiskey yourself.   Click here for Virginia Moonshine at Belmont Farms in Culpeper VA.