Beasts of the Earth
by James Wade
Narrated by Roger Clark
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Pub Date 11 Oct 2022 | Archive Date Not set
James Wade, whose first two novels were praised as “rhapsodic” and “haunting,” delivers his most powerful work to date—a chilling parable about the impossible demands of hate and love, trauma and goodness, vividly set in the landscapes of Texas and Louisiana.
Beasts of the Earth tells the story of Harlen LeBlanc, a dependable if quiet employee of the Carter Hills High School’s grounds department, whose carefully maintained routine is overthrown by an act of violence. As the town searches for answers, LeBlanc strikes out on his own to exonerate a friend, while drawing the eyes of the law to himself and fending off unwelcome voices that call for a sterner form of justice.
Twenty years earlier, young Michael Fischer dreads the return of his father from prison. He spends his days stealing from trap lines in the Louisiana bayou to feed his fanatically religious mother and his cherished younger sister, Doreen. When his father eventually returns, an evil arrives in Michael’s life that sends him running from everything he has ever known. He is rescued by a dying poet and his lover, who extract from him a promise: to be a good man, whatever that may require.
Beasts of the Earth deftly intertwines these stories, exploring themes of time, fate, and free will, to produce a revelatory conclusion that is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
A Note From the Publisher
“All Things Left Wild was one of my favorite novels of the last two years, as was River, Sing Out. But neither of those novels could have prepared me for the dark and compelling vision of Beasts of the Earth. I found myself rooting for the characters throughout their near-Biblical tribulations, and the storyline kept me turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen next. Here we have a novel that blends realism with existentialist philosophy to redefine contemporary Southern fiction. Don’t miss this tour de force of modern literature.”
-David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Spur and Anthony Award–winning author of Winter Counts
“A beautiful gut-punch of a novel.”
-Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas
“James Wade writes a terrific story, but that isn’t what makes him so good. Wade is a craftsman. His books should be read slowly, to luxuriate in his word choices, his sentence structure, his character revelation. That is why he is a joy to read.”
-James L. Haley, Spur Award–winning author of the Bliven Putnam Naval Adventures
|DURATION||7 Hours, 17 Minutes, 45 Seconds|
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 36 members
This book was sad and haunting, but beautifullly written.
It's a dual timeline. In 1987 Harlen LeBlanc is employed in the grounds department at Carter Hills High School in Texas. He keeps to himself and is quiet and reserved. Gene Thomas is his coworker, once the high school football star whose grades didn't get him to college, he's working at his former high school. Gene is found holding the dead body of his former girlfriend and is charged with murder, but LeBlanc doesn't believe Gene did it and takes it upon himself to find out who did.
In 1965 in Louisiana, Michael Fischer tries his best to protect his little sister and survive their mother, even though he's only twelve. He steals from trap lines to provide for the family and does what he can to get by. His father, a child molester and murderer, returns from prison, and his eveil sends Michael on the run. He finds safety with an older man - a good man - who is dying and he teachers Michael to also be a good man, even when the world around you is oozing bad.
The writing weaves these two stories together. Such a touching book about the struggles to be a good and kind person in a world filled with evil.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Blackstone Publising for my advance audio copy in exchange for my honest review.
AUDIOBOOK / PRINT REVIEW:
Sometimes, the very best books I read are the hardest to write about once I’ve finished that final chapter; Beasts of the Earth by James Wade is one of those books.
Part of the problem is that turning that last page and closing the cover of Beasts of the Earth doesn’t end the story. Scenes settle back over me and replay in my mind, and I find myself wondering about characters, too, as if I could get into the car and travel the backroads to those melancholy times and places and check on them. But the main difficulty in summing up a book of this caliber is that no words I can string together will do it justice. Wade’s prose is exquisite and a fully immersive experience.
“LeBlanc turned back to the horizon where the far sky had tasted the morning and come aglow in swirls of rose pink.”
The descriptions in Beasts of the Earth are captivating and complex with next-level imagery that often juxtaposes beauty with ugliness, purity with evil, natural with unnatural. Wade’s mastery of figurative language enriches the story and the metaphors found in the recurrence of two animals are stunning. Scenes are haunting, even horrifying, yet there is a sprinkling of hope even in the absence of happily-ever-afters.
“How privileged are we to ponder our own existence. How cursed.”
Wade writes complex, complicated characters that make your heart ache, your head hurt, and certainly spark your ire – sometimes all at once. As with Wade’s other outstanding novels, All Things Left Wild and River, Sing Out, there is much that happens via the characters’ words and actions, but there is much more that happens in their minds and off the page. He is especially talented at creating people who appear simple and are easily overlooked but have so much depth of character. Few words, many thoughts. Wade forces readers to put themselves inside his characters, and it’s uncomfortable to be there.
The delicate, seemingly disconnected threads of the stories ultimately weave themselves together into one perfect reading package. With its dual timelines and multiple, multilayered plots incorporating elements of gritty crime fiction, mystery, and literary fiction, Beasts of the Earth is a true work of art. I’ll be watching for this novel on awards lists.
ABOUT THE NARRATION: The audiobook narration by Roger Clark is excellent. That accent! His g-dropping will have readers hangin' on Wade's every word. Clark’s style is part campfire storyteller, part backwoods preacher, and fully engages the listener with even pacing and voice inflection. Clark also narrated Wade’s second novel, River, Sing Out, and he’s absolutely perfect for narrating Southern fiction. This was the first novel I've listened to via NetGalley's app, and I had no issues at all. I listened at regular speed, but it would have been nice to have an option between 1x and 1.25x.
This is a story about a quiet, thoughtful man named Harlan Leblanc. The story is about how and why Leblanc gets tangled up in a murder investigation. Author James Wade crafted action and allegory, and he mirrored and balanced the darkness and hope in this gritty tale. You'll feel narrator Roger Clark walking in the shoes and looking out through the eyes of the characters in the audiobook. Roger has performed about a 100 audiobooks, worked in theater and film, and is best known for portraying Arthur Morgan in Rock Star games Red Dead Redemption. His reverence and grit are spot on for this story.
Heartbreaking, gritty, and sure to move any reader. I felt it had the tone of 'True Detective' with a southern underbelly, seedy characters you instantly despise, and an ever-present oppressive feel.
If I could give 7 stars for this book, I would. A far cry from the thrillers I usually read, Beasts of the Earth is like a slightly more modern version of the Steinbeck novels the main character, Harlan LeBlanc, praises throughout the story. Wade's poetic narrative paints a beautifully grim landscape of late century South Texas, weaving the tapestry of two closely connected stories about innocence lost and betrayal by one's supposed protectors. The connection between LeBlanc's and Michael's stories becomes clear early on, one in the present and one in the past, and it's easy to predict the outcome of Michael's tale. But the addition of Remus and Deacon provide a colorful and humorous lift to his otherwise bleak turn of events. And the present-day mystery, with LeBlanc as the self-appointed private investigator who inadvertently draws suspicion to himself, is enough to keep the reader guessing as to what really happened until the end. Rich, complex characters and elaborate prose, mixed with philosophical frustration create a book well worth reading.
Roger Clark's gruff voice is perfect for the narration of this audiobook, his Texas accent carrying you back to another time and place as you fall into the story. Thank you to Blackstone, James Wade, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this wonderful book in exchange for an honest review.
I finished this book a week ago and I had to put it aside to gather my thoughts. The Beasts of the Earth is a very compelling and lyrical book. I enjoyed it immensely.
The story is told in two timelines and follows both Michael Fischer and Harlen LeBlanc. I connected more to Michaels story and really enjoyed how the book ended. Michael’s story is horrific and sad. Harlen is an adult who is meticulous about his daily habits.
The author does a wonderful job of vividly transporting me to the swamps of Louisiana and back to Texas. He borders on showing me a graphic scene but perfectly stopping at the right time to leave the reader to imagine what happens next.
The narrator, Roger Clark did a wonderful job portraying the characters and bringing the story to life. He kept me engaged and listening to the very end.
Brilliantly done and now I plan on going back and reading his other books. This is a story that will stay with me for a while.
Special thanks to Blackstone Publishing - Audiobooks and Netgalley for the ALC.
I didn't know James Wade before I noticed this book on NetGalley and I have to say it was a precious discovery. I don't really like stories set in the Southern States but I chose to give it a try. What I discovered is that James Wade is a true wordsmith, incredibly good at describing: no matter if he's telling the reader about a character or a place, he is able to make an x-ray of whatever or whoever comes out of his pen.
What I loved more is his way of capturing the essence of places: he can portray a landscape conveying the feelings and sensations that it evokes and, more importanly, he can give it a soul, a force of its own, by building a crescendo of tangible and impalpable images that intertwine. One of my favorite passages is in chapter 1:
"The sidewalk before him was overrun with a series of meandering cracks like fault lines, and from these fractures rose small clustered stalks of gallium, thine white flowers pushing forth as if they were harbingers of a great return, as if beneath the earth there were a world in waiting, a contrariwise world where nature held dominion over man."
Basically two stories are told in Beasts of the Earth: Michael Fischer and Harlen LeBlanc, appartenly unrelated characters, experience evil, trauma, and pain but also compassion, love and forgiveness. Somehow, I feel the story itself is of secondary importance and you should not read Wade's work considering the plot: the poetry of this book lies in the moving account of the human condition.
The narrator definitely compliments this book: his warm, beguiling voice and riveting accent make you feel exactly where the stories happen, as if you were there, besides Michael and Harlen.
A book to break your heart; beautiful rendered prose with strong, memorable characterization and settings that encompass both Texas and the Louisiana swamp. Unputdownable. I’ll be thinking of this novel for a long time.
I fell for this book because of the title and cover. It’s a sad 5⭐️ read for me. This was about a child who had a monster for a father and he grew up with so many demons.
He’s was forever haunted by the realities of his past and the mundane presence. But Beneath all of that was a lost, kind even gentle person trying to fight against it.
This was a quick read and I hope you pick this up. It’s written very well and I’m still thinking about all these characters. How it played out. What changed him and what didn’t.
I chose to listen to this book on audio and the narrator was excellent. I felt like I was there. Highly recommend!
Thanks Blackstone Publishing via NetGalley.
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