Back to the Dirt: A Novel
Frank Bill is back with a gritty, wrenching novel from deep inside the traumas of a broken American heartland.
Miles is a Vietnam veteran who’s worried he’s going to lose his job—and with it his tenuous grasp on a stable life—over a fight with a coworker. His PTSD and struggles to control his steroid-fueled violent tendencies also complicate his relationship with his girlfriend, Shelby, a stripper who only occasionally displays the proverbial heart of gold. She’s certainly kinder and more generous than her brother, Wylie, who has been implicated in the deaths of two local Oxy dealers and is currently on the run. When Wylie kidnaps Shelby and holes up in Miles’s country lair, it all threatens to become a bit too much for Miles.
As Frank Bill peels back the layers of Miles’s history, going deep into his memories of the Vietnam War, Back to the Dirt gets to the root of the traumas that have caused Miles and his community so much adversity. In this blistering novel, Bill reaches for the core values—living close to the land, working with your hands—that have been obscured by generations of neglect, drug abuse, and desperation. This is a profound and important story of an America that is only beginning to get its due attention—and Frank Bill is its most visceral, essential chronicler.
Praise for Back to the Dirt: A Novel
“What you have in front of you is a highly explosive mix of pain, regret, and what it means to be American in these perilous times. Which is to say you are holding the literary equivalent of dynamite. Over his three previous books Frank Bill has, in the words of Robert Stone, stared 'the grey rat in the eye.' Addiction, PTSD, wars at home and abroad--Frank Bill never flinches. This gorgeous, heart-breaking novel has everything we've come to expect, and more still. It's his best work, so be careful."
—Mark Powell, author of Lioness and Hurricane Season
"Back to the Dirt is Frank Bill at his most personal and profound, an unflinching ode to his Indiana roots and tone poem to the war that haunted countless families along the Ohio. This is a story of leg-breaking, heart-crushing power, a kaleidoscope of factory life, addiction, rural blight, country justice and the spiritual scars bore by our veterans, all rendered with the grit, grace and devotion of a master stonecutter. This is the novel Bill was born to write.”
—Peter Farris, award-winning author of The Devil Himself and Last Call for the Living
"Bill draws wrenching parallels between battle and family-abuse trauma through evocative hallucinations, survival-of-the-fittest settings, and disarming compassion... Bill’s descriptions are both ugly and beautiful, often merging the hunt with Miles’ Vietnam flashbacks, capturing the realities of those resigned to being left behind and the violence that offers short-lived power."
—Booklist (starred review)
"Bill’s feverish latest shines a light on an American heartland blighted by crushed dreams and debilitating addictions... With kinetic prose, Bill keeps up the pace and delivers a steady supply of grisly details... It makes for one hell of a ride. "
"Frank Bill is the king poet of PTSD, whether it comes from foreign wars or the domestic battlefields of factory work. Bill knows what you lose to them, but also what you gain. Back to the Dirt is uncompromising, brutal, and brilliant.”
—Benjamin Whitner, author of Cry Father