Southern Pine

JOE by Larry Brown

Algonquin; 345 pages; $19.95

Half a cup of instant coffee. Then a cigarette. Then, let's see, yeah, here's half a can of Coke left on the table, room temperature, no more fizz. Slug of Coke, swallow of whiskey, same again. Breakfast.

Joe Ransom, at 40-some, is getting too old for this. He bosses a gang that poisons tracts of scrub forest with herbicide, so that the land can be planted with fast-growing pine. That's days. Nights, he drinks, bar fights, gambles, cats around, aggravates the local cops. In between he cruises the Mississippi back roads in an...

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