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Book review: The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

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The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant (Scribner, 304 pages, $15). Now being turned into a Hollywood movie, this fascinating, grim and action-packed novel is now available in paperback. Wettest County revolves around a successful moonshine gang (successful, as in hundreds of gallons of quality booze per week) operating in the bootlegging capital of America -- Franklin County, Va. -- during Prohibition. The novel is based on the lives of the author's grandfather and two granduncles, who became regional legends for forming a fierce criminal gang at the center of the nation's moonshine trade. The Bondurant brothers' legend began when they defied the crooked state attorney's attempts to take a cut of Virginia distillers' profits in exchange for his "protection" from prosecution. Their defiance ended in shootings, followed by one of the most talked about American trials of the decade.

This is a gritty, violent tale, often dark but lightened by love and music, told through a relentless, driving narrative in clear, vivid prose. The author brings the Bondurants to life, while also unveiling the inner life of a time and place, and delving into the psyche of a primal region fighting for survival in the modern world.

The author also includes a parallel story about novelist Sherwood Anderson, who was in the area at the time, writing about moonshiners for a New York magazine, and although his story at times is awkwardly shoe-horned into the Bondurant Gang's tale, this book is still a gem.

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