First published in March of 2015, ‘Soil’ formed the debut novel for US based author Jamie Kornegay.

DLS Synopsis:

James Mize (or Jay as he preferred to be known) had a dream.  It came out of the Mississippi soil.  Something he had devoted his entire life to.  After all, through his lovingly mixed soil, he had been awarded with the name of the ‘Compost Man’.  But he his dream was grander than mere compost.  He wanted a farm that could grow in the most environmentally efficient way possible.  He had ideas.  He was sure it could be done.  He just needed the courage behind his convictions to see it through.

However, his land in the Tockawah Bottom had not proven to be the best place for his farm.  Located in the lowlands, with the Tockawah River running through it, the land gave forth a reliably dull harvest of beans and corn.  And after the recent spell of heavy rain and flooding, his land and crops were now ruined.

His wife, Sandy, had given up on him and taken their six-year-old son, Jacob, away with her to the nearby town.  Being an attractive thirty-two-year-old seventh grade teacher, Sandy Mize felt she had enough going for her to be able to look after herself and Jacob just fine.  She could see Jay’s survivalist paranoia worsening, and she couldn’t afford to let him drag her and their son down with him.

But now Jay Mize had more to worry about than just the (apparently unavoidable) demise of mankind.  He’d stumbled across the decaying corpse of a dead man floating along the river in his stretch of land and had taken drastic actions to avoid the authorities thinking he was in some way responsible.

However, whilst out scoping the area before bird season started up, local woodsman Leavenger had witnessed Jay acting odd down by the Tockawah River.  And then he’d seen Mize shoot his poor old dog for seemingly no reason.  In Leavenger’s eyes, this erratic madman had done a terrible crime against him and must therefore be punished accordingly.  First he would try the local law enforcement.  But if that failed, he would have to take matters into his own hands.

Meanwhile, the twenty-seven-year-old detective for the county, Detective Danny Shaols, was up to his old tricks.  Being the nephew to the Sheriff afforded him the position of the most privileged deputy in the Bayard County Sheriff’s Department.  And he took full advantage of his situation at every opportunity.  How could he not?  Women loved him, and he loved women.  And there were plenty of them in Bayard to keep him busy.  Including Jay Mize’s estranged wife Sandy.

But trouble was on its way.  A situation far from Shaols’ usual day-to-day duties.  The question is, can he take his eyes off the distractions long enough to see this thing to the end?  Reports of a missing man in the vicinity and a heck of a lot of strange stuff goings on add up to trouble in Shaol’s book.  And it all keeps coming back to one man.  The paranoid husband of the woman Danny Shaol has been chasing for the last couple of weeks - Jay Mize…

DLS Review:

Emblazoned across the cover of Jamie Kornegay’s debut novel is the statement “The Coen Brothers meet Crime and Punishment – with a Mississippi twist”.  I can certainly see where the author of this statement was coming from with the Coen Brothers reference.  The novel has a decidedly ‘Fargo’ (1996) meets ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998) dark-comedy-farce about it; however I have to admit that the reference towards ‘Crime And Punishment’ (1866) is a little lost on me.  In fact, a closer comparison in my eyes would be a cross between Joe R Lansdale’s ‘Edge Of Dark Water’ (2012) and Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn’ (1884) with that undeniable Coen Brothers-esque plot.

The story itself is written with a deliberate air of cloudy confusion; laying down an intriguing plot that gradually unravels as each short chapter goes by.  Set around four principal characters, the tale jumps between their individual perspectives; intertwining the storylines into a wildly farcical story that plays with cause and effect and the eventual repercussions.

There’s certainly a thick lathering of humour spread across the story.  Jay Mize’s compulsive paranoia is the fundamental cog in the story – with his belief that humanity is on the brink of total apocalypse creating a fertile ground for the madness to sprout out from.  In fact, Jay Mize’s ‘survivalist-cum-ecowarrior’ mentality seems to multiply as the story progresses, until the character is some exaggerated caricature of a person who firmly believes that everyone’s out to get him.

Throw in the sex obsessed ladies’ man that is the overly-charismatic Deputy Danny Shaols, and you’ve got quite a conflicting mixing pot for chaos to ensue.  And believe me it does.  But author Jamie Kornegay seems to take that little too long to get there.  Indeed, through his weird and wonderfully elaborate interweaving storylines, Kornegay doesn’t half go around the houses before some of the actions start to make some sort of sense.

This is a story to pass the time with.  It’s not a maniacal masterpiece that’s near-impossible to put down.  It’s a slow burner, and it takes on its own oddly quaint pace.  But it nevertheless holds its own charm.   Undoubtedly the Deep South backdrop of the Mississippi set story helps no end with this overall charm.  And the mud and dirt and spit in the story resonates through every page.  None more so that when Jay Mize gets over excited by the clinging mud around the banks of the Tockawah River and ends up rolling around naked in it before climaxing into the mud.  As I said, at times the story does become quite off-the-wall.

However, for all its wacky moments and wonderfully created characters, the tale still feels just that tad too sluggish to really ensnare the reader.  It’s definitely worth a read, especially on those cold and rainy days where the air has a rich fertile smell to it.  But personally I wouldn’t go out of my way to get my hands on a copy.

The novel runs for a total of 356 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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