Trent Powers relocates his family from Anaheim to Arkansas to take over as head coach of the Denton Pirates, a high school football team powered by a volatile but talented running back named Billy Lowe. Billy comes from an extremely troubled home: a trailer park where he is terrorized by his unstable mother's abusive boyfriend. Billy takes out his anger on the field, and it's not long before he crosses a line. Instead of punishing him, though, Trent takes Billy into his home, hoping to protect his star player as the Pirates begin their playoff run. But when Billy's stepfather is found murdered, nothing can stop an explosive chain of violence that could tear the town apart.
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.