The Plot: Set in prohibition era America, three brothers defy the law when corrupt officers try to get a cut of their illegal liquor trade. Based on a true story and written by the descendant of one of the Bondurant brothers.
Lawless is violent and brutal. I was expecting it to be as I'd seen the film, but the description of Forrest Bondurant getting his throat slit was graphic and disturbing. The narrative reflects the harshness of the era, poverty was common and men had to be ruthless and show 'true grit' to be able to provide for their families.
"Most Bondurant men, including Jack and his brothers, had that strange obsession of the terminally poor; the dreams of wadded sums of cash, of heavy lumps of change in your pocket, the small stacks that speak of dreams. They banked on the salvation of a few dollars"
I felt like I got a real insight into the manufacturing of moonshine and bootlegging. Matt Bondurant manages to give an impression of how illegal alcohol would taste and smell. The code of silence and men's presumed right to act independently of the law was an integral part of bootlegging. There is a pervading logic to the book that, although they were breaking the law and were violent, the Bondurant's actions were in some way justified. The brothers did adhere to some kind of moral code, they distilled liquor to feed their families and reacted violently to protect themselves and loved ones.
I liked the inclusion of Sherwood Anderson, a character who doesn't appear in the film. He is a writer doing research into the Bondurant Boys and other notorious bootleggers in Franklin County. The addition of Anderson helped contextualise the Boudurant's narrative, he witnessed the poverty that motivated the brothers. He also observes the glamour and fame that was, and still is, associated with successful moonshiners.
Myth and reputation are key themes in Lawless. Matt Bondurant developed the narrative from newspaper clippings, trial transcripts and family lore. It was very interesting how, in part, the reputation of the brothers was crafted by hearsay and rumour.
If you enjoyed Lawless I suggest you try Cormac McCarthy an American novelist who also writes about tough and desperate men facing difficult circumstances.