BOOKS: THE HILL CODE

A GOOD MAN, AN IMPELLED CRIME: A FIERCE FIRST NOVEL

Chris Offutt is a prize-winning short-story writer (Kentucky Straight), and in his tough, funny, sometimes brilliantly written first novel, he can't quite shake the habit. The Good Brother (Simon & Schuster; 317 pages; $23) could not be simpler or more direct in its narrative plan: a good man, Virgil Caudill, caught in a crushing predicament not of his making, commits a murder that seems unavoidable, abandons his home in the Kentucky hill country and survives precariously in Montana. The pages that narrate this contain no misdirection, no writerish word tasting, not even a flashback or shift in point of view, just...

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