Gone South. In Vietnam Vet's parlance, it means screwed-up, crazy. In the Deep South of the United States, it means dead.
Dan Lambert's experiences in Vietnam have left him no stranger to psychological wounds or death. Years later, they have also left him divorced, broke, unemployed—and on the run. For Dan, to his shock and his shame, has become a murderer.
There is a $15,000 reward on his head—a reward that two weird bounty hunters will stop at nothing to get: a reward that doesn't interest the brutally disfigured Arden Halliday. For Arden is after a different prize—one that she hopes to find deep in the dangerous swamps of Louisiana. Joining forces, Arden and Lambert head south—he to hide and she to seek. Yet there they will both become discoverers—of the dregs of American society, bloody violence, drug smuggling—and a curious destiny.
--From the back cover of the British Penguin Books paperback edition of Gone South, first published in February 1994.
Robert R. McCammon
One of the questions a writer hears a lot is, "How did you come up with that idea?" Many people seem to believe you can find the point in time where an idea for a book was born, but the truth of it is that most times you've been gathering bits and pieces of events and characters and slowly circling in on the idea that will bring them all to life.
So it was with Gone South. I think the idea began five or six years ago, the first time I saw a man standing on the street, holding a sign that said "Will Work For Food." Sometime after that, I read a magazine account of Vietnam veterans who had been contaminated by Agent Orange and were dying. I walked into a bookstore in New Orleans maybe a year after that and found a fascinating and very strange tome about freaks that included an old sepia-tone photo of a man with three arms. Also on that same trip, I took a tour of the swamp—not for any particular book, but for my own education. Later on, I watched an interesting TV show on PBS about Elvis Presley impersonators. One night on CNN, I saw a report on a Vietnam veteran who'd gone berserk and shot a couple of people, and the newscaster said that the man had been out of work for several months.
And this is how it happens. Gone South was starting to come together.
Gone South is on one level the story of a man on the run from a tragic mistake, but on another level it's the story of a man moving toward something that he doesn't fully understand. Its basic premise is that you can start out in one direction, and life and circumstances take you another way entirely, and sometimes all you can do is hang on for the ride. Gone South is about the pressures and uncertainties of life, the unfairness of it all; but it's also about toughness, and faith, and finding a way through the thorniest maze to find some kind of answer.
All the main characters in Gone South are searchers. They are moving into the unknown, on dark and twisty roads that gradually converge. They are linked by longing, by the hope that somewhere ahead lies a sanctuary from the rough wilderness of life. But, as in every journey, there's a price to be paid.
The world has become a hard place. There are difficult choices to be made, and things happen to people that knock them off the tracks. But Gone South is about fighting the good fight, no matter how tough the adversity. It's about not giving up in the face of crippling problems, of finding a way from darkness into light against all odds.
So that's where Gone South has come from. The man with the "Work For Food" sign, the dying Vietnam veterans who followed orders because they were good soldiers, the freak with three arms, the sultry Louisiana swamp, the Elvis Presley impersonators, the veteran who cracked under pressure and picked up a gun; all those are the foundation upon which Gone South is built.
It's a strange trip, into a strange place. The dark and twisty roads are waiting, and I hope you enjoy the ride.
Robert R. McCammon
Copyright © 1992 by Robert R. McCammon. This letter originally appeared in the Pocket Books paperback edition of Boy's Life, first printed in May 1992. Reprinted with permission of the author.
|Foreword to the 2008 Edition of Gone South|
Gone SouthRobert R. McCammon Pocket Books $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-671-74306-2
McCammon has followed the popular and critical success of Boy's Life with a book that is much darker, but written with the same headlong narrative grip. Dan Lambert is a bitter Vietnam vet in Louisiana at the end of his rope: Agent Orange has condemned him to a slow death, he has split from his wife and now the bank wants to repossess his truck, his only hope of getting work. In a moment of blind madness he kills a bank loan officer and runs, followed by two of the unlikeliest bounty hunters you'll ever meet: Flint, who carries the half-formed head and arm of an unseparated twin brother in his side, and Pelvis, who makes a living impersonating guess who , but has a distinctly better self. As he runs, Lambert picks up another misfit, Arden, an otherwise lovely girl with a horribly disfiguring birthmark, who is seeking a legendary faith healer in the Gulf swamplands where Lambert tries to hide. Most of the book recalls an action-packed popular movie, with car chases, some evil dope runners, murderous alligators and an explosive climax involving a Vietnam-era patrol boat. It's a strong adventure yarn, but McCammon seems to want to bathe it in some sort of cosmic significance, and the attempt to give Flint legendary stature, as well as a mistily mystical windup at a wilderness hospital run by nuns (where Arden can be "cured") take some swallowing. Literary Guild alternate. (Oct.)
From Library Journal
Author McCammon has made a name for himself with well-crafted horror thrillers but recently has explored other areas of fiction. Gone South contains danger and suspense, but it is primarily the story of a quest. Dan, dogged by depression and Agent Orange-induced leukemia, has accidentally killed a man. On the run, he meets Arden, a disfigured woman abandoned at a truck stop. He reluctantly agrees to help her on her journey to the Louisiana swamps where, she believes, the legendary Bright Girl will heal her. Meanwhile, an unlikely pair of bounty hunters is on Dan's trail: Flint began life as a carnival freak, with his Siamese twin's tiny arm and half-formed face protruding from his chest; he is saddled with training Cecil, a self-deprecating and pathetically friendly Elvis impersonator. These four misfits collide and, finally, arrive where the Bright Girl may actually live. What happens then has the satisfaction of a fairy-tale quest fulfilled. Their wishes come true, although not in ways they would have guessed. The four characters are wonderful. Their problems, while unusual, seem very real. And the scenes between irritated, icy Flint and soft-spoken, naive Cecil lend at times a slapstick quality to the novel. Highly recommended. Literary Guild alternate; previewed in Prepub Alert LJ 6/15/92.
From Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1992
If, in Boy's Life (1991), McCammon took a giant step away from horror (Mine, 1990, etc.) and toward his own potent brand of southern gothic, here he takes a daring leap—with a captivating but calculatedly eccentric fable of an outlaw Vietnam vet who learns about the power of redemption. The vet is Dan Lambert, 41, a hard-luck Louisiana carpenter slowly dying from cancer (Agent Orange). Dan's story starts out in swift if familiar thriller-fashion as, through a series of tragic overreactions, he shoots dead the bank officer who's ordered his truck repossessed, and flees. In fact, this opening strongly echoes that of David Morrell's First Blood, which introduced fellow-vet Rambo—but where Rambo was chased by a stalwart sheriff, Dan is soon hounded by two markedly bizarre characters: Flint Murtaugh, a bounty hunter whose secret weapon is the Derringer held by his Siamese-twin brother, Clint, whose arm and head extend from Flint's torso; and Flint's new sidekick, Pelvis Eisley, a drop-dead Elvis (circa 1977) impersonator. And after he makes final contact with his estranged wife and son, Dan finds himself traveling with yet another misfit, Arden—whose beautiful face is marred by a hideous port-wine stain and who's searching for the "Bright Girl," a legendary faith healer whose touch will erase her scar. Improbable events pile up as hunters and hunted race into the deep bayou, where Flint/Clint and Pelvis run afoul of drug dealers and where Dan, touched by his hunters' flawed humanity, joins forces with a Cajun swamp rat to fight to save their lives--and then accompanies Arden to her transfiguring meeting with Bright Girl. No subtlety but lots of surprises, not the least of which is McCammon's ability to humanize deeply even the most absurd of characters. With its careening plot, jackhammer suspense, and very Dean Koontz-like upbeat moral gloss, then—a real crowd-pleaser.