Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig
I love Chuck Wendig, and I discovered him by accident. Pretty sure I was searching the library free books for Chuck Palahniuk and through the virtue of their weird ass metrics, saw books by Chuck Wendig instead. I believe it was the Miriam Black books. And so I looked at them and loved them. Then I discovered the dude is from Doylestown, and I was like GAME, SET, MATCH, MOTHERFUCKER. So I was hooked.
After having read his other series and adoring them — Mookie Pearl, Miriam Black, the Heartland trilogy — I finally got a chance to read the Atlanta Burns series.
Atlanta Burns has been described as Veronica Mars meets Justified. I can see it. To me, she reads like a writer finding his metier. I don’t want to insult her by calling her a first-pass Miriam Black. Because she isn’t. But you can see Wendig’s penchant for kick-ass heroine starting to form here.
Atlanta Burns is basically a girl with a dark past thrust into the unforgiving redneckery of Pennsyltucky — that wildland of racist militia groups and neo nazis that make up Pennsylvania between the goalposts of Pittsburgh and Philly. I remember reading that we had the most separatists, militias, and hate groups per capita of any other state. That makes sense and it makes for a good creepy fucking story.
Essentially, this is the legend of Atlanta Burns forming up — the novella before we get into the meat of Bait Dog. The characters suffer a bit from Gilmore Girl-itis where they talk a little more wittily and banter-y than a real human being. It’s not so much a criticism as a classification.
What’s so outstanding about Atlanta is that she has a horrible scarring ghost in her closet. She essentially was being molested by her mother’s boyfriend and so she shot off his testicles with a shotgun. It gave her a reputation and also emotional scarring that hasn’t healed. And that’s where the power of the story really is. It’s fucked up her relationship with her mother. It’s fucked up how the entire town views her. It’s fucked up her intimacy and her ability to be physically touched. She’s not a victim but she’s also not just some tough girl who decides to rub a little dirt in it and make it all better. It’s really a great pre-cog to what happens in her later book, and it’s got that Wendig profanity-riddled charm. I can’t recommend it enough.