The Pallbearer by Jordan Farmer

Publication Info: Published November 6th 2018 by Skyhorse . Pre-pub e-book edition provided by NetGalley. Hardcover, e-book and Kindle available since publication.

Summary: Jason Felts is a counselor at the Shelby Youth Correctional Facility in Lynch, West Virginia. When he was younger, he worked as a pallbearer at the local funeral home.  As someone who was–and continues to be–bullied because of his physical challenges, he has a soft spot for the boys in the “Shell”, the nickname for the boy’s prison. The Pallbearer

Lynch, a coal mining town well onto its final skid into oblivion, is home to those who have nowhere else to go. At the top of this slag heap is a hoodlum named Ferris Gilbert. When Ferris’ younger brother, Huddles, gets caught running a job for his older brother, Huddles is sent to the Shell. Already hardened at 15, Huddles fits right into prison life.

Terry Blankenship’s father tossed him out of the house for being gay. Terry struggles to make ends meet doing odd jobs while living in a shack in the woods with his boyfriend. Unlike, Huddles, Terry still has too many soft spots. He attempts to cope by popping stolen pills. After Terry makes a huge mistake he also ends up in the Shell, with Ferris Gilbert’s contract on his head.

Jason Felt takes big risks to try to protect both of the boys.

Comments: While the town of Lynch, West Virginia is fictional, the hopelessness is not. I drove through some West Virginia mining towns about thirty years ago. Stores were shuttered, everything was covered with a fine black dust. With my relatively privileged life, I felt… guilty. Guilty that despite my circumstances (I was in an abusive marriage at the time), I still had hope. I came from a middle class family and was well educated. I had a job, good health care and could hire a lawyer and get my life back.

What The Pallbearer accurately depicts is people who are born without options. The boys in the Shell learned to distance themselves emotionally from an early age in order to survive. I was deeply affected by this novel. It made me think about the people who still live in these forgotten rural areas and anywhere that people live under crushing poverty and hopelessness — and many of the sociological and political implications of that existence.

Highly Recommended. Literary Fiction, General Fiction