Thursday, August 2, 2018

Hill Girl

In 1951, paperback original novels were still in their infancy as a medium and Fawcett Gold Medal was leading the charge by getting these short works of genre fiction into the hands of readers hungry for post-pulp entertainment. This was also the year that the reading public was introduced to the writing of Charles Williams with the release of his debut novel, “Hill Girl.”

“Hill Girl” is the story of 22 year-old Bob Crane’s return home to an isolated mountain community after a multi-year absence driven by his failed career as a college football lineman and later a losing prizefighter. After the death of his abusive father, Bob’s wild and irresponsible brother, Lee, inherited the family’s house in town, and Bob got the family’s farm in the “bottoms” between the mountains. Bob’s narration explains that the people outside of town “live off in the bottoms and rarely meet people other than the neighbors they have known all their lives.”

Before Bob left home, Angelina was a gangly teen living with her father in the rural hills. In his absence, Angelina somehow grew into a curvy sexpot, and Bob’s married brother has now become infatuated with the backwoods babe. Meanwhile, Angelina’s father is a whiskey bootlegging hillbilly who is insanely protective of his sheltered daughter.

Although the paperback is titled “Hill Girl,” it’s not the lusty femme fatale crime novel I was expecting. Instead, Williams wrote a short, literary novel about the complicated relationship between two brothers who come from a dysfunctional family dynamic and the Hill Girl who enters and further complicates their lives.

Williams is a far better writer than most of his cohorts in the Fawcett Gold Medal stable, and this is in full-effect in “Hill Girl.” The book is also smattered with several laugh-out-loud lines of dialogue. It’s hard to write in the voice of a hilarious protagonist if the author isn’t a funny guy himself, and I can only assume that Willams was a man filled with humor in life. Williams also knew his was around tragedy as also seen in this short paperback.

This was a fantastic book, but it wasn’t an adventure novel, a crime novel, or a mystery. There was also very little “action” compared to a typical novel covered here. The paperback was originally released before Williams began writing the maritime noir books that became his bread and butter. Instead, “Hill Girl” presents us with a fascinating and well-written family melodrama that is part romance and part coming-of-age tale. I can give this novel the highest endorsement without any reservations, but you just need to know what you’re getting. Recommended.