Cottonmouths: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Included as one of the Best Books of 2017 by the Los Angeles Review
From a compelling new voice in LGBTQ and Southern fiction, a gripping tale of crime and desire amid small-town America’s meth epidemic.
This was Drear’s Bluff. Nothing bad happened here. People didn’t disappear.
College was supposed to be an escape for Emily Skinner. But after failing out of school, she's left with no choice but to return to her small Arkansas hometown, a place run on gossip and good Christian values.
She's not alone. Emily's former best friendand childhood crushJody Monroe is back with a baby. Emily can't resist the opportunity to reconnect, despite the uncomfortable way things ended between them and her mom's disapproval of their friendship. When Emily stumbles upon a meth lab on Jody's property, she realizes just how far they’ve both fallen.
Emily intends to keep her distance from Jody, but when she's kicked out of her house with no money and nowhere to go, a paying job as Jody's live-in babysitter is hard to pass up. As they grow closer, Emily glimpses a future for the first time since coming home. She dismisses her worries; after all, Jody is a single mom. The meth lab is a means to an end. And besides, for Emily, Jody is the real drug.
But when Jody's business partner goes missing, and the lies begin to pile up, Emily will learn just how far Jody is willing to go to save her own skinand how much Emily herself has risked for the love of someone who may never truly love her back.
Echoing the work of authors like Daniel Woodrell and Sarah Waters, Cottonmouths is an unflinching story about the ways in which the past pulls us back . . . despite our best efforts to leave it behind.
About the Author
Kelly J. Ford is an instructor for GrubStreet Writing Center and a graduate of their Novel Incubator program. Her fiction has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Fried Chicken and Coffee, and Knee-Jerk Magazine. Although Kelly is from Fort Smith, Arkansas, she now lives in Boston with her wife and cat.
Praise for Kelly J. Ford's Cottonmouths:
"Ford’s novel features a lesbian protagonist, yet sexuality is only one facet of her strongly drawn character. Emily suffers from unrequited love, from betrayal, and from a longing for meaning and acceptance. Her struggles, as well as those of her family and community, are universal struggles set in a brutal reality where choices are scarce. Read this debut novel for its ability to go beneath the surface, striking impressive depths of character and setting."—Los Angeles Review
"We talk about the need for diverse books in America; Cottonmouths shows us a version of our country seldom given its own narrative. Kelly J. Ford writes with honesty, subtlety, and grace." —Patricia Park, award-winning author of Re Jane
"Gripping and atmospheric. A tense tale of the specific gravity of the places and the people we come from, and can never fully leave behind." —Kate Racculia, award-winning author of Bellweather Rhapsody
"Filled with foreboding and anguished desire, Cottonmouths is a perfectly-paced drama of the perils of loyalty, love, and homecoming. A terrific novel by an exciting new queer voice." –Christopher Castellani, author of All This Talk of Love
“A compelling story of unrequited love, identity, and the power of letting go.” —Heather Newton, author of Under the Mercy Trees
"A taut page-turner trembling with desire and regret, Kelly J. Ford’s debut Cottonmouths, strips away nostalgia for person and place when the return of one young woman reveals the rotting core of a small southern town, unraveling with the ferocity of addiction, and forcing a painful lesson— she must learn to let go of her delusions in both love and friendship before it’s too late." —Michelle Hoover, author of Bottomland
"A fierce first novel--startling in its grip and authenticity. It's a novel about desire and desperation and the perilous danger of loving broken people in broken places." —Travis Mulhauser, author of Sweetgirl
“Part noir, part Southern Gothic, Cottonmouths is far more than the sum of these parts, an original story that haunted me after I read it. Kelly Ford’s unflinching prose plunges readers into the town of Drear’s Bluff, where what’s familiar isn’t what’s safe and where desire proves deadly.” —Stephanie Gayle, author of Idyll Threats
"An astonishingly assured debut from Kelly J. Ford, a writer who daringly plumbs the depths of both love and despair in a new and chilling South rendered with taut and pitch-perfect detail. Trust me, this is a book you will remember." —Kimberly Elkins, author of What is Visible
“>Cottonmouths is a wonderfully harrowing debut full of shady characters and bad choices—two things that make every novel more satisfying . . . Kelly J. Ford delivers a sharp punch to the gut with this tightly spun modern noir tale. I can’t wait to read more from this author." —Tiffany Quay Tyson, author of Three Rivers
"With prose as lyrical and languid as a hot Arkansas summer, Kelly J. Ford explores the myopia of desire—and its tragic aftermath. I found myself torn between wanting to rip through these pages to find out what would happen, and a need to slow down and savor Ford’s sentences. A remarkable debut." —Lisa Borders, author of The Fifty-First State
“Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths is a heartbreaking debut about the lies we tell ourselves to brave the past—and the truths we hide that hurt us most. An honest, unflinching portrait of yearning and loss.” —Andy Davidson, author of In the Valley of the Sun
"Cottonmouths is not a love story: it's a tale of resentment, venomous betrayal, and the wounds hidden beneath familiar surfaces. Through a kaleidoscope of characters, Ford's dark novel shows us the choices people make when the world denies them good options, and the consequences of complicity."Lambda Literary
"Read this debut novel for its ability to go beneath the surface, striking impressive depths of character and setting.":The Museum of America
"Kelly J. Ford's novel Cottonmouths captures life in backwoods America like a fish in a frying pan. Ford takes her young, raw, flailing characters and rakes them over the heat of a high-octane plot until their vulnerable insides sizzle on the page."Shelf Awareness
"This debut novel from Kelly J. Ford is sensitive yet brutal. . . . A terrific new voice in the genre."Shelf Discovery
"Cottonmouths paints a disturbing picture of deep darkness lurking just below the surface of small-town America."Mystery Scene