Friday, June 13, 2008

Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks: A Book Review

This is my second book in Maggie’s Summer Southern Reading Challenge. Click here to learn more about my summer reading plans.

Greg Bottoms, Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks: Stories (New York: Context Books, 2001), 216 pages, no pictures.

When I came across the title of this book, I knew I had to read it. I wanted to make sure that one of the stories weren’t an unauthorized biography of me! I couldn’t be so lucky.

This is a fine collection of 13 short stories by a young southern author from Virginia. A number of these stories are essays about real people an events such as the title story which is about Breece D’J Pancake, a young promising writer and graduate from the University of Virginia (Bottom’s alma mater), and who committed suicide. Another is about an obscure artist receiving what he took as a call from God to create a work depicting the final judgment. Another is about the author’s great-grandfather, who was baptized a second time at the age of three in 1902. He slipped from the preacher’s (his father) hand and thought to have drowned. They were all mourning and when it turned out he wasn’t dead, people too it as a sign. The boy grew up into a man and becomes a “lying, hypocritical, womanizing preacher.”

There are many themes that run through this collection: death, love, violence, abandonment, suicide, hopeless, poverty, drugs, race and religion. A sense of loss and a Kafkaesque helplessness fill most of the characters. Several of the stories remind me of Jack Kerouac’s search for his father. In a way, these stories are like those of Richard Ford, but removed from the American West and into the mid-Atlantic region (they mostly take place in Virginia, with North Carolina and Washington DC receiving token mentions).

I love the way Bottoms explores a relationship between a man and woman, hinting what will happen to the two of them later in the relationship as he describes them infatuated with each other in the present moment. I also enjoyed his last story, where the “hero” is a fat homeless man. Most of these stories are a pleasure to read. Many of them made me thankful, some made me wonder why I’ve been so blessed.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.


  1. "Heartbroken Rednecks"

    There is such a thing!?! :o)

  2. I should read this for the Short Story Challenge, but I'm still enjoying Crews.

    You mentioned D'J Pancake and I'm off to find more about him. I noticed another SRC member picked something by him. I's scary how much I don't know.

  3. Sounds like a very interesting book.

    Was it a good or bad thing none of the stories were about you? :)

  4. Karen, Yes! The real question might be if there's such a thing as sentimental rednecks, but I think the answer to that question is also yes

    Maggie, There is a collection of short stories by Pancake and also a collection of letters.

    TC, probably good! :)

  5. I am into short stories right now. And I like the title of this book, like you. I will definitely check it out.

    Have you read Down to a Sunless Sea? I think you will like it. Check out my review on my blog. It too is a collection of 15 short stories.

  6. Tee hee Heartbroken Rednecks...does that mean their bar closed down?

  7. Sounds intriguing! I'm going to have to add this to my TBR list!

  8. Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks? Sums up my dating life when younger with less sense. Left a few heartbroken and they me after becoming too sentimental over their trucks, manly smell,sexy stoicness which I now realize was actually the inability to carry on an intelligient conversation.Gotta find a balance, I'll tell you that much.You go the opposite extreme and they can't get over themselves. Especially interested in the story about the preacher. Hilarious! Definitely going to get this book imported into my little Mississippi hometown.

  9. Gautami, I haven't read it. I'll check out your review.

    Mistress, YES! You know, after about a month in Pittsburgh, I was getting pretty annoyed about people thinking I was a redneck because I'd moved up for the South--for I felt there were more rednecks in Western PA (which I love) than in all of NC.

    Smallworld, Enjoy!

    Susie, I drive a truck, and I like it more than any car I've owned(but to have a car that gets 38 mpg again is awfully appealing), yet I can't say I love my truck--or that I love any vehicle containing an engine.

  10. Well, then, you sir are a breath of southern fresh air! Sometimes when I'm driving around this small town I purposely notice the trucks. I mean there has to be some appeal to them since so many people drive them. One day, I may trade in for one. Maybe it should be that everyone has a truck at least once in their lives.I'm getting closer. Rumor has it my SUV(piece of gas guzzling crap) is built on a chassis of a truck and most of the time the back row seats are down for me to haul stuff from Lowes or school or other places. A truck for me can't be far behind.

  11. You may be from the South, but I don't see you as redneck at all...or sentimental or heartbroken for that matter.

    Interesting books you're reading. It's funny how you never choose best sellers, but these little unknown, well-kept secrets.

  12. I don't see a lot of red on your neck either, but I loved the review!

  13. As I was reading your review I had just about decided to pick up a copy of the book. But, then I came to this line, "a Kafkaesque helplessness fill most of the characters." Don't need that right now. If you come across a happy go lucky Southern book let me know.

  14. Susie, the good thing about buying a truck now is that they're cheap! but they're not cheap to operate. Luckily, I don't often have to drive distances and often walk and ride a bike to work and around town.

    Scarlet, I've never been one for bestsellers... I'm a renegrade in that way.

    Diane, I put up a summer profile picture and I felt it was about as "rednecky" of a photo of me as exist.

    Kevin, I can understand that. Check out the writings of Judson Mitcham or Terry Kay.

  15. Something else to check out this summer. I'm never going to get any work done.



  16. Hopefully now that my house has cleared out, I can get back to some reading.

  17. "The boy grew up into a man and becomes a “lying, hypocritical, womanizing preacher.”
    That last GF of mine got ticked at me when I said "this is the south, I don't trust Cops and Preachers until I know them".

    That also reminds me of the 16 yr old girl up your way getting lightening struck and then winning the lottery...

    I share your veiw on trucks and cars. You have the practicial veiw, Sage.
    Yesterday a fellar passed me and my cousin as we were pulling off of the road. He had a shiny black Mustang with glass packs on it, he wore a tight black T-shirt and sunglasses and his head was shaved. He gave us a proud stare. "I guess he's got a nice car", my cousin said. We were in my old Toyota truck with a canoe strapped to the top. "But we dumped a canoe in the river this morning and he didn't" was my reply.

  18. sage~ I already saw Barack in person at a town hall meeting two weeks ago today! Go back to my site, scroll down to my June 3rd and June 1st posts!!

  19. The book may contain interesting character studies; but I think it would get me to be too depressed. Somehow I find it hard to read fictional stories of broken lives.

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