When Greg Bottoms runs into an old friend from high school, neither man is sure if it’s worth starting their first conversation in over a decade. As teens, they had run with a rough crowd—standard hooligans, in Bottoms’ mind, until his friend became cruel in his violence, exhibiting “pure, gleeful meanness.” Years later, as they cross paths at an ATM in their hometown, the friend can’t believe Bottoms went to college, grad school, is a writing professor with a wife and kids. The friend has been in and out of prison for drugs and drunken brawls, has a son with a black eye waiting in his truck.
In Pitiful Criminals, Greg Bottoms offers thirteen genre-bending chapters from his past that take a close look at the lives of small-time criminals driven, often by confusion and desperation, to deeds that range from the absurd to the heinous. We meet the author’s schizophrenic arsonist brother, a depressed pot grower, a damaged ex-dealer who barely escaped a violent burglary, a born-again teenage shooter, and other alienated Americans driven to extremes by psychology and circumstance. Forceful, poetic, unique, and utterly uncompromising, it is an unforgettable tour of the dark side of the human condition.
Greg Bottoms’s innovative creative nonfiction has focused on the South, the effects of violence on individual lives, mental illness, ecstatic and spiritual experience, and class in America. It blends explicitly autobiographical and biographical content with innovative fictional form, a cultural journalist’s observations, and a philosopher’s deep inquiry into the strange ways we live now.