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Author tries to make his books personal

Matt Bondurant said he looks for the perspective of an outsider on a society and the presence of a specific mythology in the books he reads and writes.

More than 30 people gathered Thursday night at the Kennewick branch of Mid-Columbia Libraries to hear the Texas-based author discuss his two latest books, one about his bootlegging ancestors and the other about an American couple taking refuge on an Irish island after the 9/11 attacks.

Several attendees asked questions about Bondurant's family history and how he approached his work. Others spoke about how they identified with his writing and the characters that contain a part of Bondurant himself.

"I think that's the appeal of literature," said Michael Huff, head of collections for the Libraries.

Bondurant's visit is part of the Libraries' Summer Reading Program. Hundreds of copies of The Wettest County In The World, his second novel, were given to patrons weeks in advance of his visit to the Tri-Cities.

Bondurant, whose family originates from Virginia, has published three novels. His latest, The Night Swimmer, is set on a remote Irish isle where "goats outnumber the people."

However, The Wettest County in the World is getting the most attention, given its recent film adaptation scheduled to be released Aug. 29 in theaters as Lawless.

Wettest County is a fictionalization of Bondurant's grandfather, his brothers and their roles as bootleggers in the 1920s and 1930s.

Night Swimmer, on the other hand, is "much more of a love story then I've ever done before," he said.

Despite their differences in setting, era and protagonists, Bondurant said his work tends to be quite personal to himself in some way. Writing about his family, albeit having to make up some details because of gaps in the history, was a highly personal exercise, he said.

In Night Swimmer, the main character and narrator is a woman in her 30s, but she also is an avid swimmer -- an activity Bondurant pursues.

Likewise, the characters in his latest book are outsiders to the remote Irish community they move to, which Bondurant visited when he lived in Great Britain. His grandfather is portrayed as something of an outsider to his older brothers in Wettest County, and Bondurant said that made a connection.

"I take personal things and disguise them; I put them into other people," Bondurant said.

The author told the Herald that most people want to know if their existence is of some consequence, either personally or through their family's legacy, which comes out in his work. Huff said that theme provides part of the attraction to Bondurant's writing, which makes it easier for readers to identify with his characters.

Pasco resident James Kelly said his wife brought him one of the free copies of Wettest County, and he read it on a recent vacation to Kentucky. He said he connected with the characters, and the book gave him some ideas about how stories from his life could be told.

"It makes me want to write about places I've been on motorcycle rides," Kelly said.

Bondurant said he doesn't believe he'll write another book similar to Wettest County because he doesn't want to write the same book twice. However, he's pleased with the movie adaptation of his work and said he hopes his grandfather, who died when Bondurant was 17, is as well.

"I think he'd appreciate all this attention," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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