Home » David Joy is an insightful and compelling writer

Posted: February 21, 2021

David Joy is an insightful and compelling writer

Book Review

By Derryll White

Joy, David (2020).  When These Mountains Burn.

A life is nothing but the sum of its yesterdays. – Raymond Mathis

In this novel David Joy creates hard circumstances and harder characters. These are mostly people without university or college degrees, some even with limited grade school – but very schooled in the rough and dirty ways of the world we all inhabit some part of.

The author writes with the softest, most humane touch.  When he describes Raymond Mathis’ deceased wife Doris, only the most hardened reader won’t experience mist in the eyes – sad but oh so beautiful.  Joy pays attention to every sweet detail.

The nicest thing about David Joy is how down-low his whole approach to the story is.  Set in North Carolina it could just as easily be West Kootenay.  There are no ugly international cartels, just nasty local dealers.  There are no super cops, just people doing their jobs.  As misguided as some may think Ray Mathis is when he takes the law into his own hands, he acts from a moral code that was common to my generation.  We take care of our own, in any manner necessary.

It is a pleasure to discover a new writer who exercises his craft so carefully.  Not only does Joy tell a story, he examines and laments the loss of a way of life.  This is the kind of insight and reflection many will find compelling.  Most important of all, however, the author tells a great story.


Excerpts from the novel:

COYOTES – Ever since Doris passed he’d become obsessed with coyotes.  In the beginning, Ray couldn’t figure out the reason.  Maybe it was all the sleepless nights and hearing them in the woods above the house.  But the more time he spent thinking the more he came to figure that maybe it was how he’d watched mountain people and culture be damned near extirpated over the course of a few decades, while those dogs had been persecuted for a century and thrived.  It was admiration, he thought.  Maybe even jealousy.

THE REZ – As soon as he crossed the line, there was no turning back.  In a lot of ways the rez was another world, a place with its own form of law and order.  If the United States government thought holding fifty thousand acres in trust and allowing a couple of casinos had settled the debt, they were out of their minds.  There were Cherokee who refused to carry twenty-dollar bills because they didn’t want to look at Andrew Jackson’s face.  The Trail of Tears wasn’t a singular event in history.  It was a continuum.  The government had never stopped shitting on natives.  There was not a single moment in history solid enough to build any sort of trust upon.  So there were places white men weren’t welcome, places that if you grew up here you knew not to go after dark….

JUSTICE – Holland didn’t care.  This was America.  The whole idea of justice was comical.  If a man in this line of work got caught up in the rights and wrongs of the criminal justice system he might as well shove his service weapon into the back of his throat and get it over with.  The only thing you could do was work the case.  Save yourself the headache: leave the bullshit for someone else to decide.  That was hard for some people but he was better than most at compartmentalizing the work.

ADDICTION – But an addict’s mind was a rocking chair.  You could have full understanding that moderation didn’t apply to people like you and at the same time convince yourself that you could do a little without wanting a lot.  It was almost like the drugs were talking when things got like that, like the voice you were hearing in your head wasn’t even your own though it sounded like you and reasoned like you.  You wanted to reward yourself for how good things were going.  You deserved it.  After all you’ve done, you deserve one night.  And nine times out of ten, that’s how you relapsed: believing one night wouldn’t be the beginning of forever.

It was a misguided faith in self-control.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

Article Share