Book Review : J. David Osborne - Low Down Death Right Easy (2013)
I've lived in Montreal for the last fourteen years, but I was born in a small mining town six hundred miles northeast of there. I've left the place long ago and yet it still haunts my dreams and my creative endeavors. My working class upbringing is part of who I am. That's why I've always been extremely picky with art that depicts the reality that shaped the person I am today. Not that many people get it right. I gotta tell you though, J. David Osborne novel Low Down Death Right Easy has to be the most intricate and inspired depiction of the minimum wage working world. It's also a pretty great mystery. It has a lot going for itself.
Hear me out.
Low Down Death Right Easy is the story of Arlo and Sepp Clancy, brothers living in rural Oklahoma. Arlo's life mission is to keep his unruly kin out of jail, but he's getting restless with his own situation, living in a mobile home and barely scraping by. They make a gruesome discovery while out fishing that will put them on Danny Ames path. Ames is a bouncer and enforcer for a local kingpin looking to solve the mystery of his brother's disappearance. These people trying their best to exist on the fringes of the legal system are going to be confronted by fate and their quiet lives is about to change.
The brilliance of Low Down Death Right Easy lies in its subtle and brilliant delivery. The chapters are broken down into a series of short, interlaced vignettes that build a portrait of a town struggling economically. The plot moves forward but the setting moves upwards like the walls of a house being built. The setting of Low Down Death Right Easy becomes increasingly more complex and appealing with every chapter. Lots of working class fiction tend to be melodramatic because the characters lead a no-win existence, but truth is that living on the fringes of the legal system is amorphous and complicated and J. David Osborne captured the nature of the working class better than most fiction I've read on the subject in Low Down Death Right Easy.
I've reviewed J. David Osborne before on this site and every time I pick up something new, I'm amazed at the boundlessness of his creative process. If certain authors pathologically write the same novel over and over again, Osborne is pathologically different every time and this is some kind of yardstick for True Bushido artistic ambition. Osborne constantly reinvents himself. Black Gum (my favorite of his) is a gonzo learning novel about the power of individuality, his collection Our Blood in its Blind Circuit has a mythical and supernatural edge to it and Low Down Death Right Easy is a straight mystery and a tremendous depiction of the fringes of society and the fringes of reality altogether. Reading Osborne always feels fresh and challenging.
That said, J. David Osborne has his own thematic obsessions that are the foundations of his identity as a writers. Low Down Death Right Easy, just like Black Gum and Our Blood in its Blind Circuit (and probably like every other book of his I haven't read) is centered around the volatility of existence for working class people. Osborne's themes and poetics are not that different from America's favorite troubadour's Johnny Cash. Low Down Death Right Easy might be his most straightforward depiction of working class existence, but it's also its most nuanced and sophisticated. Highly recommended for both readers of mysteries and contemporary fiction.
* I've read a French translation of the book. Hence the cover.