This is a very atmospheric tale, set mostly in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. The protagonist, Tucker, is eighteen years old when the novel opens in 1954. After serving in the Korean War, he is freshly out of the army and is making his way back home.
He's camping out along the way, living off the land, when he comes across a man attempting to rape a fourteen-year-old girl. Tucker pulls the man off the girl and beats him badly before discovering that the man is the girl's uncle and that they are on the way home from her father's funeral. The man is also a deputy sheriff, which complicates matters even further.
Thinking quickly, Tucker forces the man to sell him his car, which has been modified into a vehicle for running moonshine whiskey. Tucker then leaves with the car and with the young girl, Rhonda, who is strongly attracted to him. As a practical matter, Tucker has had no experience with women and is in some ways, little more than a boy himself. But within hours, the two agree to marry, and Rhonda is speculating about what their children will be like.
At this point, the story jumps forward ten years. The couple is living a hardscrabble life on a mountaintop in Eastern Kentucky and Tucker is driving 'shine for a local bootlegger. The couple already has five children but only one of them is normal. The others are all severely handicapped in some way or other.
Moving forward, Offutt describes the triumphs and tribulations that constitute the life that Tucker and Rhonda have built for themselves. The couple faces one challenge after another, and as the story progresses, both Tucker and Rhonda will be sorely tested. Country Darkis a beautifully written story that evokes a way of life few of us can imagine. Tucker, in particular, is a very compelling character, and his story is one that few readers will quickly forget. This is the first novel that Chris Offutt has written in a number of years, and I can only hope that his next one appears very soon.