With the Devil's Help: A True Story of Poverty, Mental Illness, and Murder
In the tradition of The Glass Castle, Educated, and Heartland, Neal Wootentraces five decades of his dirt-poor, Alabama mountain family as the years and secrets coalesce.
Neal Wooten grew up in a tiny community atop Sand Mountain, Alabama, where everyone was white and everyone was poor. Prohibition was still embraced. If you wanted alcohol, you had to drive to Georgia or ask the bootlegger sitting next to you in church. Tent revivals, snake handlers, and sacred harp music were the norm, and everyone was welcome as long as you weren’t Black, brown, gay, atheist, Muslim, a damn Yankee, or a Tennessee Vol fan.
The Wooten's lived a secret existence in a shack in the woods with no running water, no insulation, and almost no electricity. Even the school bus and mail carrier wouldn’t go there. Neal’s family could hide where they were, but not what they were. They were poor white trash. Cops could see it. Teachers could see it. Everyone could see it.
Growing up, Neal was weaned on folklore legends of his grandfather—his quick wit, quick feet, and quick temper. He discovers how this volatile disposition led to a murder, a conviction, and ultimately to a daring prison escape and a closely guarded family secret.
Being followed by a black car with men in black suits was as normal to Neal as using an outhouse, carrying drinking water from a stream, and doing homework by the light of a kerosene lamp. And Neal’s father, having inherited the very same traits of his father, made sure the frigid mountain winters weren’t the most brutal thing his family faced.
Told from two perspectives, this story alternates between Neal’s life and his grandfather’s, culminating in a shocking revelation. Take a journey to the Deep South and learn what it’s like to be born on the wrong side of the tracks, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of a violent mental illness.
Praise for With the Devil's Help: A True Story of Poverty, Mental Illness, and Murder
"From the very first page, this book takes you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It’s brutal, fast-paced and, above all, honest. Like every good book before and after it, With the Devil’s Help takes you to a place you’ve never been and never known you’ve wanted to go, for a little while, at least.” —Daniel Wallace, New York Times best-selling author of Big Fish and This Isn’t Going to End Well
"A true story of the Deep South that grabs your imagination with both hands and never lets you go. Prepare to stay up all night after you read the first page." —Homer Hickam, New York Times best-selling author of Rocket Boys/October Sky
"With the Devil's Help is a survival story in the mode of Harry Crews’ brilliant memoir A Childhood. Crews concluded that for a 'grit,' a redneck like him, survival was triumph enough. Wooten concurs." —Don Noble, The Tuscaloosa News
“I encourage you to read it. It could be a movie.” —Louie Saenz, The Book Club, NPR
"Stand-up comic and writer Wooten turns in an earnest, sometimes sorrowful account of his upbringing in the poorest part of northeast Alabama...A Drive-By Truckers album of a book, sometimes appalling, always heartfelt and vividly observed." —Kirkus Reviews
“This story takes you into the heart of Sand Mountain…has readers and true-crime lovers practically giving themselves paper cuts from turning the pages so fast.” —Charles Montgomery and Anna Mahan, WAFF News Huntsville, AL
"Readers who are interested in complex family histories like Tara Westover’s Educated will enjoy this book." —Library Journal
"I devoured this book. It is engrossing, relatable, intriguing, heartbreaking and so well written. I could visualize it and that is not something that every writer can convey. The author took a brutal childhood and somehow turned it into a story filled with heart. The way he intertwined the two storylines was masterful." —William Dameron, author of The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing and Coming Out
“A powerful story told by an excellent writer that paints a true picture of the Deep South. Neal Wooten weaves a tale that will make you cry and then laugh, often in the same paragraph. This book will draw you in and hold on to you.” —Jerry Ellis: author of Walking the Trail: One Man’s Journey Along the Cherokee Trail of Tears