All Fired Up 

"I wanted Smonk ... to get dirty," author Tom Franklin says in the press release for his latest novel. "Or rather, it got dirty on its own. I was constantly shocked at how the characters behaved. I winced at the sex. I worried about the violence. Can I do this? I kept wondering."

A few pages into Smonk (William Morrow), you might well wonder, Can I stomach this? The sex is positively unhealthy. (Even by today's substandards.) The violence is way beyond over-the-top. (Think: biblical proportions.) And as for the title character, consider:

Eugene Oregon Smonk is a syphilitic, one-eyed dwarf with a major mean streak. He's been terrorizing everybody everywhere for years, but in 1911, he's terrorizing the citizens of Old Texas, Alabama. So the law drags Smonk into court, but it's Old Texas that's put to the test: murder, incest, "ray bees," you name it.

Redemption, Old Testament-style, is at issue in Smonk, but the order of the day is mayhem at its most visceral. You want a man shot so full of bullets he's reduced to what looks like afterbirth? You got it. You want a fake eyeball fought over, swallowed, digested, and then some? You got it. And you want all of this told with shocking wry humor? You got that too, courtesy of Tom Franklin, the John and Renee Grisham writer-in-residence at Ole Miss, the author of Poachers and Hell at the Breech, and the gunman pictured here, playing a prospector on the TV series Deadwood.

However: Speaking for your fans, Mr. Franklin, can we ask that you drop the firearm for your booksigning at Burke's? As with any independent bookseller these days, that store's got enough problems.

Tom Franklin booksigning, Burke's Book Store, Tuesday, September 12th, 6 p.m.

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