Excerpt — 7 February 2020

by Johnny Shaw

Context is for suckers. It’s more interesting to pull a random page from a book and let it stand on its own.

Today’s selection is page 37 of Meth Mountain by Coil Branch, published by Simulacrum Press in 2013.

In 2016, it was later revealed that Coil Branch was the penname of Winthrop Thornycroft III of Whiteville, CT, an MFA student at Yale University who received a high six-figure advance for Meth Mountain, his debut novel. The publisher called it, “an authentic look at the bottom of the American barrel.” In a 2017 interview for Ambitiosior Magazine, Branch stated, “The reason I write about the poors is because they don’t have any of the complex troubles of those that face the burden of wealth. They are a simple folk, dirty-faced and gullibly pure.”

(The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from the author.)

was tough. Tough as nails. Tough as old leather. Tough as a poorly cooked steak. Tough as that one piece of crackling that feels like it’s going to break your tooth. That’s how tough he was. He knew it. Everyone knew it. Even that sumbitch, Buford Morehouse knew it. Travis Haymaker was not just a man’s man. He was a man’s man’s man.

The tales echoed down from the Sugarbush Mountains, along the Cottonmouth River, all the way down into Poverty Valley. If his red pickup cleared the tree line and headed down into the holler, it was best to stay indoors. Because when Travis Haymaker was in town, trouble followed. And mayhem usually followed trouble. And then subsequently, death was definitely close behind. Travis Haymaker, trouble, mayhem, and death were like an ordinary lunch. Travis Haymaker was the spinach salad. Trouble was the vichyssoise. Mayhem was the duck confit with ramps. And death was the poached pears in raspberry sauce. Four courses of the apocalypse.


If Trask Porter could only get a new set of engine parts for his pickup truck, then everything would work out fine for him and his. He was about to finally pay off his debt to the Haymaker family. Unless they asked him for some unexpected demand of him, he could finally go straight. The six years he spent in prison had taught him a valuable lesson about crime. It didn’t pay. Except in prison time. Which wasn’t a viable unit of currency.

Trask had his trailer and his girl and his dog and his truck. If a man needed more than that, he didn’t know what it was. White lightning moonshine, maybe. Or his faithful shotgun, Thelma. But right now, he just needed those engine parts to make his engine work.

Watching the sun rise, he wadded up a big wad of chewing tobacco and jammed it into the side of his mouth. Some people got sick and nauseous when they tried chewing tobacco, but not Trask. He had been chewing since he was eight years old.

“What for you doin’ outin’ here on the veranda, Trask?” his girl Ruthie Ann asked from behind the screen door. She wore her short shorts and gingham top tied in a knot at the front. Her pigtails made her look younger than her fourteen

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