• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of When These Mountains Burn by David Joy

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Joy offers an often dark work of Southern literary fiction through which bubbles of hope emerge.

Ray, a gruff, tough, burly, stubborn, but kind man, has outlived his beloved wife in the mountains of North Carolina.


He has a precious old girl of a dog, a fascination with (and healthy fear of) coyotes, a love of reading, and a no-nonsense manner that makes clear he doesn't brook fools. He has almost resigned himself to the heartbreaking idea that his addict son is too lost to be saved.


There's an undercover cop nearby who's trying to help take down a robust drug ring, and then there's Ray, who uses old-fashioned methods and his knowledge of mountain terrain to address injustices in a straightforward way.


An addict who seems likely beyond redemption offers surprising hope in Joy's When These Mountains Burn. Every choice he makes is to further his chances of snatching the next fix. We live through his desperation and sometimes numb forward trudge toward what feels inevitable. Yet he hesitantly tries to begin reconciling his inner self with his body's cravings; he knows he masks his feelings and guilt with drugs, and he feels a persistent sense of duty and an overreaching pull to protect his sister. He isn't a noble figure; he's a junkie and he steals, lies, and runs, but first he does some version of the right thing over and over again.


It isn't always easy to read, but it isn't over the top, and Joy's characters are fascinatingly faulted and keep you humming right along. I read this in 24 hours while also wishing I were making it last longer.


I received an advance reader's copy of this book from NetGalley and G.P. Putnam's Sons in exchange for an unbiased review.

What did you think?

David Joy's subject matter and writing style remind me somewhat of Brian Panowich (Hard Cash Valley; Bull Mountain); I love both authors' books and am all in for their others.


This book made my Greedy Reading List for My Six Favorite Summer 2020 Reads.


#gothicnoir, #southern, #fourstarbookreview