Monday, July 4, 2011

Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter - New American Classic? (Plus Roots Read-Along)

Go read it.  Right now.  Seriously, go.  And celebrate Independence Day with a new American classic.

My pick of the summer is Josh Ritter's debut novel, Bright's Passage.  He's such a stellar lyricist/acoustic musician that I eagerly anticipated his prose in this recent (June 28) release.  And I was not disappointed. 

My Opinion:  It's rare in my reading life now that I encounter a surprise from sentence to sentence in a novel, rarer still to find it from page to page, chapter to chapter.  This one delivers a tale at once classic and unexpected through the confident, assured prose of a true storyteller, and unique characters that feel entirely of their time period yet utterly timeless as well. 

For themes and style, think Tim O'Brien meets Cormac McCarthy meets Charles Frazier.   Then think a relatively compact and taut structure, alternating between our protagonist Henry Bright's WWI experiences and his current journey through rural West Virginia.

To Sum Up:  Here's the publisher's blurb (as you know, I rarely resort to using these, but I wanted to get this review out as close to publication as possible, so here it is for now):    
    Henry Bright is newly returned to West Virginia from the battlefields of the First World War. Grief struck by the death of his young wife and unsure of how to care for the infant son she left behind, Bright is soon confronted by the destruction of the only home he’s ever known. His only hope for safety is the angel who has followed him to Appalachia from the trenches of France and who now promises to protect him and his son.
    Together, Bright and his newborn, along with a cantankerous goat and the angel guiding them, make their way through a landscape ravaged by forest fire toward an uncertain salvation, haunted by the abiding nightmare of his experiences in the war and shadowed by his dead wife’s father, the Colonel, and his two brutal sons.

MFB, with a strong sense of contentment that at least I've logged one satisfying reading experience for the summer of '11,
L

p.s.  Second opinion?  Try a balanced and interesting review from Jesse Kornbluth at Huffington Post, subtitled "The James Franco of Music".  It's dead-on and engagingly written in its own right, so I recommend hopping over there (briefly).  And I recommend NOT to read Stephen King's NYTimes review until after you've read Bright's Passage, because there's a major spoiler right in the third paragraph and quite a few more throughout...

And now, for my Roots Read-Along post...


    This section, in which Kunta Kinte endures the horrific "middle passage" and arrives in North America to be sold as a slave to a plantation owner, certainly provided more excitement and character development than the first expositional 130+ pages of Roots.  I'm thankful for that, and interested to see if/how Kunta integrates himself into his new community of slaves.  Since he's attempted to escape from his master multiple times under impossible conditions and with zero success, incurring physically harrowing punishments each time (how he is not dead by now is a mystery of fiction, I fear) but as yet undaunted, I'm also interested to see if he gains any wisdom or patience to bide his time in order to mount a more successful plan of escape.  Or is his behavior a result of the extreme torture and trauma he experienced on the middle passage, and hence possibly a lifelong tendency?  He's such a head-strong character at this point that, even though he's our protagonist and certainly more than justified in his rage, I wonder why Haley's chosen to paint him this way. 
    I'm also curious about how Kunta's unquestioning Muslim faith and determined allegiance to its practices will play out over time.  Will he become more tolerant of other religions or will his particular brand of condescension toward those who don't share his faith continue, hand-in-hand with his determination to attempt fruitless escapes?
    This book has definitely picked up, in terms of both plot and characterization, so I'm looking forward to the next installment.
    Why not join in the Roots Read-Along?  There's still time... Just stop by Booksnob on Mondays to join in the hop!
   MFB,
   L

6 comments:

Laura said...

I saw Josh Ritter supporting Ray LaMontagne a couple of years ago, and I was really impressed! So I'm really glad that his book is awesome too- will definitely have to check it out :)

Laurie said...

Wow! That must have been a fabulous concert! I've never seen Ritter perform, but I've heard often that he's as fine as you say...

LBC said...

I just ordered a signed copy from Powells. Now I'm even more excited.

Booksnob said...

Just posted my Roots review this week. Wow, some of this part was hard to read and very gross. I am amazed that Kunta has not died of infection yet and am glad he remains strong of spirit. When he conforms, his master will have broken his spirit and part of me wishes that never happens.

Laurie said...

I agree with you about not wanting Kunta to conform. My hope is that he will find enough strength to remember what he learned of patience and detailed, subtle observation from his manhood training back in The Gambia and apply that to his plans for escape...

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I will definitely put Josh Ritter's book on my tbr list. Thanks for the great review. I might have missed this book otherwise.

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