Eli Cranor’s top-shelf debut, Don't Know Tough is unmistakably noir in the Southern tradition, a cauldron of terrible choices and even more terrible outcomes ... There is a raw ferocity to Cranor’s prose, perfectly in keeping with the novel’s examination of curdling masculinity. Don’t Know Tough is, so far, one of the best debuts of 2022.
In Eli Cranor’s brilliant debut, Don’t Know Tough we simply cannot look away from a brutal high school football star, Billy Lowe, and the disintegration of the world around him ... Don’t Know Tough takes the adage of “Faith, Family, and Football” and reveals it to be a vicious canard, or at least a decent cover for the common failings of god and men, the violence on the field an acceptable proxy for the violence that exists behind closed doors ... A major work from a bright, young talent.
Cranor’s debut is a searing exploration of the toxic heart of Southern high school football culture, including the human price of winning at all costs; think Friday Night Lights with extra darkness. Readers of Daniel Woodrell and Allen Eskens will appreciate the visceral detail in this Ozarks noir.
Hard-as-nails ... In Cranor’s novel, as in the best genuine noirs, there is only inevitability ... We know the trajectory the story will follow (down, always down), but that doesn’t lessen the crackle of Cranor’s electric prose, nor does it make his characters any less unequivocally real, their fates any less heartbreaking ... Superb.