“The Wettest County” was optioned for a movie even before the book hit the shelves. It has been made into a major independent film named “Lawless,” which debuted recently at the Cannes Film Festival and will hit U.S. screens in August. It stars Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Gary Oldman; the screenplay was written by rock musician Nick Cave, and the soundtrack features songs by Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Ralph Stanley, who does a bluegrass version of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.”
Bondurant wrote “The Wettest County” while he was teaching English at George Mason University in Fairfax between 2003 and 2007, and it was published in 2008 to glowing reviews. While living in Del Ray in Alexandria, Bondurant would trek down to his grandfather’s stamping grounds in the hills south of Roanoke to compile the remarkable detail that infuses the scenes and characters, when they aren’t punching or shooting each other or driving crazily on the back roads to avoid the law.
Bondurant, 41, was born at Inova Fairfax Hospital and grew up in the Alexandria section of Fairfax with his parents and older brother and sister. His father was a civilian engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers, and his mother was a Fairfax schoolteacher. He attended Washington Mill Elementary School, Whitman Intermediate School and Mount Vernon High, from which he graduated in 1989.
Bondurant does not have fond memories of life at Mount Vernon High in the 1980s, where he said teachers were more concerned with maintaining order than teaching. But he loved reading, and he brought books to read under the desk. He wrote a little poetry, anchored a dominant swim team and worked as photo editor of the high school yearbook.
It wasn’t until he reached JMU, and encountered a bit more academic rigor, that he realized there might be something to this literature stuff. Mark Facknitz, a professor whom Bondurant acknowledged in his recent book, “taught me ways of looking at books in a serious way.” He immersed himself in Edgar Allan Poe for a long stretch, and Poe’s dark influence is evident in his writing.
Still not a great student, he graduated and kicked around the country for a time, dabbled in journalism briefly and realized that he loved college. He was accepted into a master’s program in English at JMU, and “I began comprehending for the first time,” he said.
Bondurant still didn’t see writing as a vocation. Writers were “like somebody from another planet,” he said. But with encouragement from professors such as Facknitz, “I started to consider the possibility.”