Growing up in Philadelphia, it was always out there, lurking at the edge of geographic awareness, an unknown, scary and mysterious.
Pennsyltucky. Also known as Penslybama. The rural stretch of the state between Philly and Pittsburgh that has more in common with Kentucky (and Alabama) than it does with the cities that bookend it.
(Of course, let’s face it, Pittsburgh isn’t too great either. ‘They could really just call it East Cleveland. *ducks*)
But back to Pennsyltucky. My best friend and I would venture out into it in high school. It is a good place to buy knives and gunpowder. Not that we did. Nope. Just … looking. It really was a whole different world from grimy, liberal, crowded Philadelphia. Old barns, meth labs, gun shops, and old men hanging out outside the gas stations who looked like they’d been drying out for at least a generation. Driving through Pennsyltucky at night, it could be downright creepy. Long stretches with no lights at all. For someone who lived with a streetlight outside his bedroom window his whole pre-adult life, this is a little disconcerting.
It is in this place, which after spending five years living in Kentucky I can say really does share a lot of things with the Bluegrass State, that Chuck Wendig has set his crime novella, Shotgun Gravy. It’s a world of mobile-home drug dealers, neo-Nazi gun clubs, and casual racism.
It’s into this world that Chuck dumps Atlanta Burns, a high school student with a scary reputation for violence and a soft spot for people in trouble. She helps them even though she knows it’d go easier on her if she just walked away. Even if Chuck hadn’t mentioned it in the note at the end of the book, I couldn’t help being reminded of Burn Notice, but with a messed up teen heroine in backwoods Pennsylvania instead of a cool ex-spy in eye-candy Miami.
I love Burn Notice, and I loved Shotgun Gravy. I mean, the title alone is enough reason to pick up this book. As in his other books and stories, Chuck writes with a bag and a half of attitude and never lets up off the gas, and your brain is just chained to the bumper for the ride. I started reading it the other night, intending to get to bed early, but instead I found myself blinking at 2 a.m., book finished, wondering where the last couple hours went.
There’s a reason I wanted Chuck to write for the first issue of my magazine.
Shotgun Gravy is dark, but it needs to be dark to tell its story. And it’s dark with a hint, a smidge, of hope shining around the edges. Atlanta Burns has a lot of problems, but she is trying, and she is helping people who can’t stand up for themselves, and maybe helping them grow a little spine while they are at it. Bad people get what’s coming to them, but like in real life, putting people in their place, pissing them off, has blowback.
I’m not much for spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m excited for the next Atlanta Burns story.