I finished reading this book last night but decided it was too late to write a post about it. That was probably for the best, because it gave me a chance to recover a little from the experience. BIG CITY GIRL is a brilliant book, one of the best Gold Medals I’ve read, but it’s about as bleak and harrowing as anything you’re liable to come across. Charles Williams gives us the parallel storylines of fugitive murderer Sewell Neely and his trampish wife Joy, who is staying with Sewell’s family on their failing cotton farm in East Texas. From the evocative cover by Barye Phillips (one of his best) to the last few sad, powerful, subtly horrifying pages, this is rural, “backwoods” noir at its best.
For years, people whose opinions I trust (most notably Ed Gorman and Bill Crider) told me how good Charles Williams’ books were. Still, it took me a while to get around to reading any of them, maybe because I watched a movie based on one of them (THE HOT SPOT) and didn’t care for it. But then a year or so ago I read one of his Dell First Edition novels, GIRL OUT BACK, and this year I’ve read HILL GIRL and now BIG CITY GIRL, and I’m a Williams fan for good now. Some of his later books are about sailing, and he’s supposed to be an excellent writer about the sea, but I haven’t gotten to those yet. Based on the novels I’ve read, though, he’s as good as you’ll find at chronicling the lives of hardscrabble country folks whose luck has run out. I’m glad I still have a stack of his books on hand.