May 15, 2000 12:00 PM

by Larry Brown

Book of the week

For years Larry Brown (Father and Son) has been known and respected as a writer’s writer. But now, with Fay, this profoundly southern novelist may win the broad readership he so richly deserves. Fay Jones, Brown’s 17-year-old heroine, grew up in a shack in the woods north of Oxford, Miss. When we meet her, she is escaping her sexually abusive father—literally walking down Highway 55 toward Biloxi, a place she has only heard of. A marvelous creation, Fay is at once as innocent as a newborn (she has never used a telephone, seen a credit card or heard of the Civil War) and an unwitting temptress (she is gorgeous and dresses in skimpy clothes). Naturally, Fay has a catalytic, even explosive, effect on the men and women who stop to pick her up.

Brown, an ex-firefighter, does not write about genteel folk amid magnolia blossoms but about people often dismissed as white trash. His people live in trailers, work in strip joints and are given to sudden, irrevocable acts of violence. But he endows them with compelling moral lives. In Fay, Brown’s magic is to make the reader wonder at his plucky heroine, then care about and finally root for her as she winds toward the novel’s gripping conclusion. (Algonquin, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Spellbinding tale

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