Excerpt from When These Mountains Burn by David Joy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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When These Mountains Burn

by David Joy

When These Mountains Burn by David Joy X
When These Mountains Burn by David Joy
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    Aug 2020, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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One

Rain bled over the dusty windshield. Raymond Mathis wrung the steering wheel in his fists trying to remember if there was anything left worth taking. The front door of his house stood open and from the driveway he knew who'd broken in. Fact was, if it wasn't nailed down, it was already gone. What pawned easily went first and now the boy stole anything that looked like it might hold any value at all.

Across the yard, the last of Ray's dogs bawled from the kennel. There'd been a time when he bred the best squirrel and coon dogs ever to come out of Jackson County, a line of black-and-tan mountain feists that'd tree anything that climbed. He'd raised beagles to run rabbits through bramble back before outsiders riddled the land with no trespassing signs, and this was the last of them: a lean bitch named Tommy Two-Ton who was grayed in the face and shook on her hind legs as she balanced against bowed chicken wire.

Crossing the yard, Ray was thankful the boy had at least put the dog up this time. The hound was old and blind, but hadn't lost her nose. Earlier that summer, the boy had broken in, left the door standing wide, and Tommy was gone nearly a week before Ray found her two coves over, panting and hobbling half-starved down the road, having chased God knows what through the night. A dog gets on a scent and there's no turning back, and in that way dogs and men aren't that different. Ray didn't blame Tommy like he didn't blame the boy. Both were after something they had no business chasing, but he understood how a single thought could enter a man's mind and absolutely consume him.

"You ready for supper?" Ray said as he slid the barrel bolt back on the door. The bones of the five-stall kennel had weathered gray but were still as solid as the day he framed them. Rain slid off the back of the tin roof and seeped into the ground as quickly as it fell. The hound howled melancholic and lonesome as if she hadn't seen a soul in years. When the door swung open, she trotted through the yard and into the house, then shook herself dry with ears slapping jowls.

This was the first rain to touch the mountain in months. The ground was so dry that stopping there in the yard, Raymond could almost hear the earth lapping at what fell, trying to wet its mouth enough to stave off dying of thirst. The ridges were burning and the air smelled of smoke and there was no front in the forecast. Ray figured this little spell was just a cruel joke. Still, he stood there staring up into the sky, letting the drops beat against his eyelids while he prayed the shower long.

A stingy brimmed hat sat low on his brow. He wore a pair of Key overalls stained dark at the knees and a duck barn coat with a crude patch stitched over the right shoulder. Six foot five and pushing three hundred, he was a giant of a man with forearms thick as fence posts. He had hands like his father's that swallowed most anything they held. He remembered one time at a livestock auction as a kid how an old man joked that with mitts like that his father could shake hands with God. All his life Ray had figured that was about right.

The board-and-batten farmhouse looked almost silver in the rain, its cedar shake roof sullied green with moss. The front door tapped against the inside wall on a light breeze. The lights were on in the front room. The boy hadn't even needed his key because Ray hadn't locked the door. There were no other threats this far out in the country. He could've changed the locks and his habits, but then the boy might've busted out the windows or kicked down the door and that'd just be something else to fix. Maybe that was why Ray didn't bother, or maybe it was some hope buried in the pit of his heart that said, One day he won't come back to steal. One day he'll just come home.

Sometimes he blamed himself for the boy's faults. When his wife, Doris, got sick with cancer, Ray didn't bat an eye when the pain meds walked off. He was too busy watching his wife shrivel down to nothing. Sometimes he wondered if his absence was to blame, but the truth was before the pills it was crystal and before the crystal it was pills and before that it was booze and weed and anything else he could get his hands on. A few weeks back the law had found the boy leaned against the brick wall in front of Rose's with a needle in his arm, white-faced and openmouthed like he might've been stone cold dead, and none of that was anybody's fault but the boy's.

Excerpted from When These Mountains Burn by David Joy. Copyright © 2020 by David Joy. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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