Yesterday I finished the book “Poachers”, a collection of ten short stories by Tom Franklin. The book opens up with an introduction showing the author traveling back to the Alabama woods he grew up in, searching for inspiration and details he could use in his writing. Throughout the stories we see snapshots into the lives of different people and families, all set in Alabama, except for one in Mississippi and the main characters all seem to have a couple things in common. Life hasn’t been easy for any of the protagonists throughout “Poachers” and for the most part it doesn’t get any better for them. In fact most of the time they end up in worse shape than they started in, some of them even dead. Franklin writes very descriptively which allows the reader to immerse themselves in each of the settings. I don’t know that I’ve ever wanted to go anywhere more than a hidden lake hidden deep within the woods described in one of the stories. The cool, refreshing water that brought a sense of freedom as they swam across sounds like a piece of heaven that I would love to experience for myself.
What I think is absolutely genius about Franklin’s writing is that he can tell a whole story branched off from the imagination of the protagonist. After the character’s return from the lake in the previous story for example the main character starts thinking that eventually his friend whom he hadn’t seen since the lake will show up at his doorstep one day, and they would end up leaving everything behind and moving north, and what exactly they would do on their road trip down to the very last detail of where they would use the bathroom. The imagination of the protagonist took me to that place, allowing me to see what he could already see for himself. Another commonality throughout the stories is that there always seems to be at least one person who is a heavy drinker, usually to the point where their drinking leads them to do something incredibly dumb whether it be leaving town the night before the wedding to go shark fishing, or heading out to the edge of the woods with intent to kill the game warden. I wonder if this is Tom Franklin’s cry for help for himself or perhaps it’s just a warning for the rest of us, but alcohol plays a big role throughout the book.
The final story in the book, the title story, “Poachers”, is the one I was most excited about reading. Around this time of year my dad tends to ready eerie or scary books to go along with the theme of Halloween and so I’d asked him for a recommendation. I’d never been a huge fan of scary movies but lately I’ve been intrigued by the thought of finding a book that would truly scare me. I read “The Shining” by Stephen King earlier this year and while I really enjoyed it and it made me a King fan, it didn’t have the effect on me I had hoped for. So my dad recommended “Poachers” but he said it wasn’t so much as scary as it was eerie and that’s exactly what it was. For some reason I still clung to the hope of being scared by written words but that hope was in vain. It did have an eerie feel to it though as mysterious murders happened in the foggy night and an old man that could hardly walk, who cared deeply for the victims tried to avenge their deaths and protect their younger brother from meeting the same fate. Overall it was a really good collection of short stories that had me longing for the simplicity of small town Alabama. I would highly recommend it, and give it a 4 out of 5 rating. Whether you decide to read it all at once or space it out over the course of time, like eating a Reeses, there’s no wrong way to do it.