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Give Us a Kiss ~ A Capsule Book Review

Give Us a Kiss ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Daniel Woodrell’s 1996 novel, Give Us a Kiss, is set in the fictional Missouri Ozarks town of West Table. It is the story of a hillbilly family, and specifically the story of two hillbilly brothers: Doyle Redmond, age 35, and his 39-year-old brother, Smoke. Doyle is the main character in the book and is telling the story in his first-person voice.

Doyle is something of a conflicted hillbilly. He can never get away from his hillbilly roots, but after he left the town of West Table he became something more than a hillbilly: he went to college, became a semi-successful writer with four non-selling books to his credit, and was once married to a striving, snooty bitch named Lizbeth. (The name alone says it all.)

When Doyle returns to West Table after an absence of several years, he embraces all that is hillbilly and all that he left behind (as exemplified by his elderly grandfather, Panda). He moves in with his brother, Smoke, and Smoke’s girlfriend, Big Annie, in their trailer home out in the country. Big Annie has a beautiful 19-year-old daughter named Niagra (after the movie of the same name with Marilyn Monroe). Despite the age disparity (Doyle is 35 and Niagra is 19), we know the two of them are going to be a hot item.

We learn that Doyle and Smoke, in their younger days, were hell-raisers of the highest order and were frequently on the wrong side of the law (typical of their family). Now, as men approaching middle age, they grow a marijuana crop out in the woods where they believe it will never be detected. They nurture the crop until it is ready to harvest and process into saleable pot bricks (with the aid of a trash compactor and large bottles of Coca-Cola). Just as they are ready to sell the crop and get the long-awaited bundle of money the crop will bring, they are betrayed and fall afoul of a nasty hillbilly family called the Dollys. (Murder and Mayhem are the Dolly family’s stock in trade.) The Dollys and the Redmonds have a history of bad blood between them going back many years and several generations.

Daniel Woodrell is the leading exemplar of hillbilly fiction in American letters. Give Us a Kiss is another fast-paced page-turner from him about rednecks living the hillbilly dream. And aren’t the lives of hillbillies a lot more fun and so much more interesting (as Mr. Woodrell has proved in book after book) than college professors, Wall Street brokers, doctors and lawyers? Those people bore me unto death. Who wants to read about them?

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

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