The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart by M. Glenn Taylor
I first heard about M. Glenn Taylor and “The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart” on Chicago Public Radio’s show Eight Forty-Eight, the news and culture show for the Chicagoland area. The story had Taylor talking about his book; the premise sounded interesting, but what really caught my attention was the fact that he teaches at Harper College, the local community college that is just a few miles from my in-laws’ house. Evidently he grew up in West Virginia (where “The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart” is set), but currently lives in my area with his family and teaches English and fiction writing at Harper.
Early Taggart was born to a woman who wasn’t quite right in the head. After hearing the voice of the Devil from Early’s mouth she dropped her infant into the river. As he floated down the river, the coal dust and bacteria infected his teething gums, giving him a filthy, stinking mouth and the nickname Trenchmouth. As a teenager, Trenchmouth associated with striking coal miners and shot a number of people that opposed them. In an attempt to avoid jail time for a murder he committed in the cause, Trenchmouth disappears into the hills and reinvents himself a couple of different times as a musician, a journalist, and a grandfather.
I was really excited about this book because of the local author. Perhaps I was too excited and that is what made me feel so profoundly ‘meh’ about this book. Trenchmouth was sort of like the Forest Gump of West Virginia, used to spotlight West Virginian 20th century history. Now, I’m all about learning history in fiction, but sometimes it just felt too contrived. The writing also bothered me a bit, particularly in the first half of the book. I don’t know how many times this construction was used, but it seemed like “(Name) was (adjective) if not (adjective)” was used far too often, and it didn’t always seem that it was really being used correctly. the thing that perhaps seemed the mos unnecessary was Trenchmouth’s obsession with the penis bone of small animals, he did all sorts of things with them and I heard about it far more than I wanted to.
If you’re interested in West Virginia history, you might want to pick this up. Otherwise I’m not sure I’d really recommend it, although it wasn’t bad, per se.
The Literary Road Trip is the brainchild of Michelle at GalleySmith. It is a chance for book bloggers to spotlight local authors and their books. I will be spotlighting authors and books from Illinois (my current state of residence) and Indiana (my state of birth).