Pickard County Atlas
Chris Harding Thornton
reviewed by Eric Ellis
Pickard County Atlas by Chris Harding Thornton unfolds during a July 1978 summer in rural Nebraska and is told in alternating chapters featuring a handful of primary characters.
As the story is told, each character, haunted by their past, seems to be attempting to seek respite, redemption, or eradication from their own ghosts—whether or not they have been earned through faults of their own. Each of these characters, from a worn-down county deputy, to a roaming disenchanted young wife and mother, to a family with a violent past, exist in a small county where one small act or encounter may lead to the possibility of further violence and turmoil.
Pickard County Atlas could be referred to as “Country Noir,” however, the novel is not an extremely dark novel, but instead a truthful examination of how people deal with such ghosts and haunts of their past.
This review of Pickard County Atlas has been one of the more difficult I have written. The reason for this is the less you the reader knows about the novel beforehand, the more enhanced the writing and story will be.
The descriptive writing in this debut novel is richly exquisite. Descriptions of simple acts, such as how time and distance can be measured by the click of an odometer digit or the use of a metal, flip top cigarette lighter, found throughout the novel are assembled in almost poetic rhythm, with not a wasted, lost, or overused word.
While reading this novel, the author evokes black and white mental imagery similar to that found in films such as Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. Mental imagery such as dilapidated, empty buildings, contrails of dust caused by tires on a gravel road, and people hewed rough and ragged by a tough life. In your mind, while reading this novel you could hear crickets at night, smell the drying vegetation and imagine the brightness of stars at night.
Pickard County Atlas is highly recommended to readers who enjoy novels described as “Country Noir” and by readers fond of the writings of authors like Larry Brown.
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