The Wettest County in the World

By Matt Bondurant


Welcome to the thrilling and murky world of “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant! 📚✨ This fascinating novel dives deep into the heart of Prohibition-era Virginia, where the law is as fluid as the moonshine that flows through the county. Matt Bondurant, the author, masterfully blends historical facts with fiction, drawing from the real-life exploits of his own ancestors, the Bondurant brothers, who were notorious bootleggers during the 1920s and 1930s.

The genre of this book is historical fiction, with a gritty and raw edge that perfectly captures the spirit of the time. Bondurant’s storytelling brings to life the struggles, the violence, and the determination of those who lived in one of America’s most tumultuous periods. Whether you’re a fan of history, crime drama, or just looking for a gripping read, “The Wettest County in the World” promises an unforgettable journey into America’s past. Let’s crack open the pages and explore what makes this book a must-read! 🥃🚓

Plot Summary

“The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant tells the riveting story of the Bondurant brothers in Franklin County, Virginia, during the Prohibition era. The novel is a blend of fact and fiction, delving into the lives of the brothers as they navigate the dangerous world of moonshining. Here’s a breakdown of the main events:

Exposition — The story sets in the 1920s, introducing us to the Bondurant brothers: Forrest, Howard, and Jack. They run a successful moonshine business, exploiting the high demand for alcohol during Prohibition.

Rising Action — As their business flourishes, the brothers face increasing pressure from law enforcement and rival bootleggers. Tensions escalate when a new Special Deputy, Charlie Rakes, arrives from Chicago with the intent to take control of the county’s bootlegging operations.

Climax — The climax unfolds with a violent confrontation between the Bondurant brothers and Charlie Rakes. The brothers, known for their invincibility, endure brutal attacks that test their limits and solidarity.

Falling Action — In the aftermath of the confrontation, the Bondurant brothers deal with the consequences of their actions. They navigate legal challenges, personal losses, and the shifting dynamics of their business.

Resolution — The novel concludes with the brothers adapting to the changes brought by the end of Prohibition. Despite the scars left by their battles, they cement their legacy in Franklin County’s history as survivors and legends of the bootlegging era.

Throughout the narrative, Bondurant weaves a tale of resilience, loyalty, and the pursuit of the American Dream against the backdrop of one of the most challenging times in American history. The story not only chronicles the adventures and ordeals of the Bondurant family but also offers a window into the societal and moral complexities of the Prohibition era.

Character Analysis

“The Wettest County in the World” is enriched with complex and compelling characters, each contributing uniquely to the story’s depth and realism. Here’s a detailed analysis of the main characters:

  • Forrest Bondurant — Forrest is the eldest of the Bondurant brothers and the backbone of their moonshining operations. Known for his stoic demeanor and formidable presence, Forrest is deeply loyal to his family and fiercely protective of their business. Despite his tough exterior, he possesses a keen sense of justice and a surprisingly tender side, especially in his interactions with Maggie, a former dancer who becomes an important part of his life.
  • Howard Bondurant — Howard, the middle brother, is marked by his experiences in World War I, which have left him with deep emotional scars. He is volatile and unpredictable, often resorting to violence and alcohol to cope with his demons. However, Howard’s loyalty to his family is unwavering, and he is willing to go to great lengths to protect and support them.
  • Jack Bondurant — The youngest brother, Jack, is ambitious and dreams of expanding the family’s moonshine empire. Unlike his older brothers, Jack is less inclined towards violence and seeks to make a name for himself through cleverness and negotiation. His journey from a naive young man to a savvy businessman is central to the story, reflecting his personal growth and the changing dynamics of the illegal liquor trade.
  • Maggie Beauford — Maggie is a strong-willed woman from Chicago who seeks refuge in Franklin County from her past life. She quickly becomes an integral part of the Bondurant operation, not only through her relationship with Forrest but also by bringing a sense of stability and care to the often chaotic world of the Bondurants. Her presence introduces themes of love, redemption, and the possibility of a life beyond violence.
  • Charlie Rakes — The antagonist of the story, Charlie Rakes is a Special Deputy from Chicago, sent to clean up Franklin County’s bootlegging operations. His sophisticated demeanor and ruthless tactics make him a formidable adversary to the Bondurants. Rakes represents the encroaching reach of the law and the inevitable clash between old-world values and modern authority.

Here’s a summary table for a quick reference:

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsDevelopment
Forrest BondurantStoic, formidable, protectiveProtect family/business, seek justiceOpens up emotionally, embraces change
Howard BondurantVolatile, loyal, troubledProtect family, deal with war traumaStruggles with inner demons, remains loyal
Jack BondurantAmbitious, clever, less violentExpand business, gain respectGrows from naivety to savvy businessman
Maggie BeaufordStrong-willed, stabilizing, caringFind safety, bring stabilityBecomes a central, unifying figure
Charlie RakesSophisticated, ruthless, antagonisticEnforce law, assert controlEmbodies conflict between old and new

Each character in “The Wettest County in the World” contributes to the rich tapestry of the narrative, embodying the complexities of loyalty, ambition, and survival in the face of adversity.

Themes and Symbols

“The Wettest County in the World” is rich in themes and symbols that weave through the narrative, adding layers of meaning and contributing to the book’s profound impact. Here are some of the major themes and symbols:

  • Survival and Resilience — The Bondurant brothers’ determination to maintain their livelihood through moonshining amidst Prohibition highlights themes of survival and resilience. Their ability to withstand law enforcement’s crackdowns and rival bootleggers’ threats symbolizes the human spirit’s capacity to endure and adapt to challenging circumstances.
  • Law and Morality — The novel explores the complex relationship between law and morality, especially in a time when Prohibition laws were widely contested. The characters’ engagement in illegal moonshining raises questions about the legitimacy of laws that go against public sentiment and the moral judgments that govern personal actions versus legal dictates.
  • Family and Loyalty — Central to the story is the theme of family and loyalty. The Bondurant brothers’ unwavering commitment to each other in the face of external threats and internal conflicts underscores the importance of familial bonds and loyalty as sources of strength and identity.
  • American Dream — Jack Bondurant’s ambitions to expand the family business and improve his social standing reflect the pursuit of the American Dream. The novel examines how this dream is navigated and often complicated by societal constraints and personal ethics.
  • Violence and Power — Violence is a recurring symbol throughout the book, used as a means to assert power, control territory, and resolve disputes. The depiction of violence in the Bondurants’ world reflects the broader societal acceptance of force as a way to achieve and maintain status and authority.
  • Nature and Wilderness — The rugged landscapes of Virginia serve as a backdrop to the story, symbolizing both the harsh realities of rural life and the untamed spirit of the Bondurants. Nature represents a refuge from societal laws and a source of raw materials for their moonshine business, highlighting the connection between the land and its people.
  • The Car as a Symbol of Progress — The use of cars in the moonshine trade symbolizes progress and modernization. As the novel progresses, cars become crucial in the expansion of the bootlegging business, reflecting broader societal shifts towards industrialization and away from traditional ways of life.

Each theme and symbol in “The Wettest County in the World” enriches the narrative, offering insights into the characters’ lives and the societal dynamics of the Prohibition era. Through these themes and symbols, Matt Bondurant invites readers to reflect on the complexities of law, morality, and the enduring quest for the American Dream.

Style and Tone

Matt Bondurant’s “The Wettest County in the World” is distinguished by its unique writing style and tone, which play pivotal roles in crafting the mood and atmosphere of the novel. Here’s an examination of these elements:

  • Descriptive and Atmospheric — Bondurant’s prose is richly descriptive, immersing readers in the physical and emotional landscapes of Prohibition-era Virginia. The vivid descriptions of the rural settings, the tense atmosphere of moonshine runs, and the brutal confrontations add a layer of immediacy and realism to the narrative.
  • Gritty Realism — The tone of the book is marked by gritty realism. Bondurant does not shy away from the harsh realities of the bootlegging life, including violence, corruption, and the struggle for survival. This realism lends authenticity to the story, allowing readers to fully engage with the characters’ experiences.
  • Lyrical and Reflective — Amidst the stark depictions of violence and hardship, the narrative is interspersed with lyrical passages that offer reflections on human nature, family bonds, and the societal impacts of Prohibition. These moments of introspection provide depth to the characters and enrich the thematic underpinnings of the story.
  • Tense and Suspenseful — The writing style contributes to a palpable sense of tension and suspense throughout the novel. Bondurant masterfully builds anticipation in scenes depicting moonshine runs, encounters with law enforcement, and family conflicts, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
  • Dialogue and Dialect — The use of dialogue and regional dialect enhances the authenticity of the characters and their environment. Bondurant captures the vernacular of the time and place, bringing to life the voices of the Bondurant brothers and their community.

The combination of these stylistic and tonal elements creates a compelling narrative that is both engaging and thought-provoking. Bondurant’s ability to balance the gritty realities of the story with moments of beauty and reflection adds to the complexity and richness of the novel.

Literary Devices used in The Wettest County in the World

Matt Bondurant utilizes a range of literary devices in “The Wettest County in the World” to deepen the narrative, enhance thematic expressions, and enrich the overall reading experience. Here are the top 10 literary devices employed in the book:

  1. Metaphor — Bondurant uses metaphors to draw comparisons between characters’ emotions and the natural world, highlighting their internal states without explicitly stating them. This device adds layers of meaning to the characters’ experiences.
  2. Simile — Through similes, the author vividly describes the setting and characters, making the scenes more relatable and the emotions more palpable. Similes are used to create vivid imagery and help readers visualize the world of the Bondurant brothers.
  3. Symbolism — Various symbols are employed throughout the novel to represent larger themes. For instance, the wilderness symbolizes both the freedom and danger of the bootlegging lifestyle, while the cars represent progress and change.
  4. Foreshadowing — Bondurant subtly uses foreshadowing to hint at future events, creating suspense and preparing readers for upcoming developments. This device keeps readers engaged and adds depth to the storytelling.
  5. Irony — The use of irony, both situational and dramatic, underlines the contradictions between the characters’ intentions and outcomes, and the reader’s understanding versus the characters’ perceptions. This enhances the complexity of the narrative.
  6. Allusion — References to historical events and figures ground the story in its historical context, enriching the reader’s understanding of the era and its impact on the characters.
  7. Imagery — Detailed and evocative imagery immerses readers in the sensory experiences of the novel’s setting and characters’ lives, making the story more vivid and engaging.
  8. Personification — By attributing human qualities to the natural environment and inanimate objects, Bondurant deepens the connection between the characters and their world, reflecting their inner states and the story’s themes.
  9. Hyperbole — Exaggeration is used for emphasis or humor, highlighting the extreme aspects of characters’ personalities or situations, and adding a layer of intensity to the narrative.
  10. Parallelism — The author employs parallelism in the structure of events and the development of different characters, enhancing the narrative’s rhythm and reinforcing thematic connections.

These literary devices are skillfully woven into the fabric of the narrative, adding richness and depth to the story. They not only embellish the tale of the Bondurant brothers but also invite readers to engage more deeply with the text, uncovering layers of meaning and contributing to a more rewarding reading experience.

Literary Devices Examples

For each of the top 10 literary devices used in “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant, here are tables providing examples and explanations:


The moonshine business is described as “a river in flood,” sweeping away the old laws and moralities.This metaphor compares the impact of the moonshine trade to a natural disaster, highlighting its power to change societal norms and the landscape of law enforcement.


Forrest’s resolve is “like a tree rooted deep in the earth,” unmovable and steadfast.This simile emphasizes Forrest’s strong will and unyielding nature, drawing a parallel to the stability and endurance of a deeply rooted tree.


Cars in the novel symbolize progress and the escape from traditional constraints.Cars represent the technological advancements of the era and the characters’ desires to move beyond the limits of their current lives, embodying the theme of progress.


Early mentions of Deputy Rakes’ cruelty hint at future conflicts between him and the Bondurant brothers.This foreshadowing sets up anticipation for the inevitable clash, adding tension and suspense to the narrative.


Despite the law’s intent to curb drinking, Prohibition only increases the demand for moonshine.This situational irony highlights the unintended consequences of Prohibition, where efforts to control alcohol consumption lead to the opposite effect.


References to real historical figures and events, like Prohibition and the Great Depression, anchor the story in its time.These allusions enrich the narrative with historical depth, providing context for the characters’ actions and the societal changes they face.


Descriptions of the Virginia mountains shrouded in mist evoke a sense of mystery and danger.This imagery creates a vivid setting that mirrors the secretive and perilous nature of the moonshine trade.


The forest is described as “whispering secrets” to those who dare enter its depths.Personifying the forest adds a mystical quality to the setting, suggesting it holds the truths of the land and its people.


Jack’s dreams of wealth are so grand they “could fill the ocean.”This hyperbole emphasizes Jack’s ambitious nature and the vast scope of his aspirations, underscoring his desire to transcend his circumstances.


The parallel struggles of the Bondurant brothers and their rivals underscore the universality of ambition and survival.This structural device highlights the similarities in motivations and challenges across different characters, reinforcing the themes of ambition and survival in a harsh world.

These examples showcase how Matt Bondurant skillfully employs literary devices to enrich “The Wettest County in the World,” adding layers of meaning and enhancing the reader’s engagement with the story.

The Wettest County in the World – FAQs

What is the main setting of “The Wettest County in the World”?
The main setting is Franklin County, Virginia, during the Prohibition era in the 1920s and early 1930s. The story explores the rural landscapes, the communities living there, and the impact of Prohibition on their lives.

Who are the Bondurant brothers, and what is their significance in the novel?
The Bondurant brothers—Forrest, Howard, and Jack—are central characters in the novel. They run a successful moonshine operation and become local legends for their resilience against law enforcement and rival bootleggers. Their stories explore themes of family, loyalty, and the pursuit of the American Dream.

How does Prohibition impact the characters and the plot of the novel?
Prohibition acts as a catalyst for the events of the novel, driving the moonshine business and creating conflict with law enforcement and among bootleggers. It shapes the characters’ lives, offering opportunities for wealth but also exposing them to danger and moral dilemmas.

What themes are explored in “The Wettest County in the World”?
The novel explores several themes, including survival and resilience, the relationship between law and morality, family and loyalty, the American Dream, and the use of violence as a means of asserting power.

Who is Charlie Rakes, and what role does he play in the story?
Charlie Rakes is a Special Deputy from Chicago, sent to Franklin County to clean up the bootlegging operations. He becomes the main antagonist, representing the law’s encroachment on the Bondurants’ way of life and their struggle to maintain independence.

How does Matt Bondurant blend historical facts with fiction in the novel?
Bondurant uses historical events and figures, including his own ancestors, as a foundation for the narrative, blending fact with fiction to explore the lives of the Bondurant brothers and the socio-political context of Prohibition-era America.

What literary devices does Bondurant use to enhance the story?
Bondurant employs a variety of literary devices, including metaphor, simile, symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, allusion, imagery, personification, hyperbole, and parallelism, to add depth and richness to the narrative.

Can “The Wettest County in the World” be considered a historical document?
While based on real people and events, the novel is a work of fiction and should not be considered a historical document. However, it offers insightful perspectives on the era and can complement historical studies by providing a narrative understanding of the time.

These FAQs provide a solid foundation for students studying “The Wettest County in the World,” offering insights into the novel’s key aspects and themes.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is the primary setting of “The Wettest County in the World”?Franklin County, VirginiaChicago, IllinoisNew York City, New YorkLos Angeles, CaliforniaA
Who is the author of “The Wettest County in the World”?John GrishamCormac McCarthyMatt BondurantErnest HemingwayC
During which historical period is the novel set?The Great DepressionProhibition EraWorld War IThe Civil WarB
What business are the Bondurant brothers involved in?BankingMoonshiningCoal MiningFarmingB
Who is the antagonist of the novel?Charlie RakesAl CaponeJesse JamesHoward BondurantA
Which Bondurant brother is known for his ambition to expand the business?ForrestHowardJackNone of the aboveC
What major theme is explored in the novel?Space explorationThe impact of technology on societySurvival and resilience during ProhibitionThe rise of the internetC
Which literary device is NOT mentioned as being used in the novel?MetaphorOnomatopoeiaSimileSymbolismB
How does the novel predominantly portray the law and morality?As clear-cut and straightforwardAs complex and often conflictingThrough a purely positive lensAs irrelevant to the characters’ livesB
What symbolizes progress and change in the novel?HorsesThe moonCarsRiversC

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of “The Wettest County in the World,” covering key aspects of the setting, characters, themes, and literary devices.


Read the following paragraph from “The Wettest County in the World” and identify the literary devices used. List your answers below the separator.

“The moon hung low like a watchful eye, casting long shadows across the Virginia mountains. The forest whispered secrets as the Bondurant brothers made their way through the thick underbrush, their footsteps muffled by the dense carpet of leaves. Somewhere in the distance, a creek babbled tirelessly, a constant reminder of the world’s ceaseless chatter.”


  1. Simile — “The moon hung low like a watchful eye,” compares the moon to an eye, suggesting it is observing the scene below.
  2. Personification — “The forest whispered secrets,” gives the forest human-like qualities, suggesting it holds and communicates knowledge.
  3. Imagery — Descriptions of “long shadows,” “thick underbrush,” and “dense carpet of leaves” create vivid images of the environment.
  4. Symbolism — The “babbling creek” symbolizes the ongoing and ever-present nature of the world’s movements and sounds, possibly reflecting the constant nature of change or struggle within the novel’s context.

This exercise is designed to help students identify and understand the use of literary devices in “The Wettest County in the World,” enhancing their analytical reading skills.