Cover Image: Beasts of the Earth

Beasts of the Earth

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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.
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It was a pretty good read. I thought it would be a bit better. It wasn’t terrible. It was nicely written. Still worth a chance to read.
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Michael Fischer is a young boy living hand to mouth with his mother and younger sister, Doreen. Forbidden from attending school so he can provide food for the family, Michael risks his life to steal fish from a neighbor's traps. He and his sister share a mattress in their house in the swamp. His life goes from bad to worse when his father returns from a stint in prison, doing time for raping a young girl. When forced to commit a soul-crushing act, Michael flees his home.

Harlen Leblanc is a mild-mannered man with the simplest of lives. A maintenance man at the local high school, he lives in an almost empty duplex with any of the niceties of life. But he has a keen eye for those who are in need and goes out of his way to spread kindness. When a high school girl is found murdered on campus, his young co-worker is accused. Harlan’s attempt to help the boy backfires and he finds himself questioned for the crime and suddenly shunned by those he’d help, as if all his good works were wiped away in an instant.

The two stories intersect in a painful, heart-rending finale. For Harlan, the psychological scars of an abusive, cruel childhood are impossible for him to overcome. After a lifetime of battling his demons, he gives in to them, understanding fully what he is, what he will always be. He realizes that the man Michael becomes was forged by the evil fire of his father and once tempered cannot change.

To say that this book is a difficult read is no exaggeration. Wade scrapes together the worst of human behavior: rape, murder, child abuse, pedophilia, and prostitution and spins a gritty, painful tale. But his prose is lyrical, almost poetic. His languorous descriptions of a wide Texas sky or a hot Louisiana swap juxtaposed with the violent narrative gives the book a seductive duality that is hard to put down. How does beauty co-exist with the ugliness in the world? What makes a man good, what makes him evil and can those traits live inside the same person?
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This amazing, multi-layered story opens with a prologue that reads like a parable, and the biblical influence is evident. We meet a watchmaker who is laboring over his task of repairing watches: 

“Within each small machine, and evaluation of the present, a determination of the future. From the crown wheel to the barrel bridge, the hairspring and winding click, each piece is strictly ordered – delicately balanced. Despite every similarity, no two can be the same, for the seconds are always passing.“

The prologue ends with a horde of people burning the watchmaker’s home down, while they cry out, “Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani?” Those Aramaic words are the opening words of Psalm 22, translated as “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me” in the King James Version of the Bible. They are also the words Jesus spoke when he hung on the cross.

That prologue sets a tone, and theme, for the rest of the book. A desperate plea for release from the torment plaguing the central characters, underscored by a sense of being forsaken by all, human and divine.

Yet, there is hope.

There is resilience.

Conventional writing wisdom says that even a villain should have one redeeming quality so people can relate to them without having to go to their own dark side. That’s is not true for Munday, who is a heartless killer, an alcoholic, and abuser.

The way the story is structured, we meet this evil man early on, before we ever know he’s Michael’s father. Munday has been away, serving time in prison, but now he’s out and returning to the family he left in abject poverty. He leaves a trail of carnage along the way, before finally making his way home.

Michael knows that is not going to bode well for him or his mother or sister, and when the father starts sexually abusing Doreen, Michael bolts.

Forsaking his sister.

Guilt tormenting him the rest of his life.

Wade’s storytelling is deserving of every accolade it receives. The language he uses is richly textured. Characters are compelling. Wonderful imagery makes scenes and characters come alive. And the pacing is perfect. In many ways, this is an incredibly dark story, but there are redeeming qualities and satisfying resolutions. Maybe not happy-ever-after, but satisfying.

Bits and pieces of backstory are dropped like stones into a pond, creating a ripple effect that finally washes up on the shore of our understanding, until we “get it.” The relationships between these characters and the dark secrets that drive their actions.

It’s hard to say much more without giving things away that are better found out through reading the book.

AUDIO REVIEW: It was interesting to read the book first, then listen to the story. I’ve never done that before, but I’m glad I did. Roger Clark, the audio narrator, is a talented voice-actor, and his sometimes slow Southern drawl was perfect for sections of introspection and the descriptions. Clark also knew exactly when to add a layer of urgency to the words in scenes of action and deeper drama. That kind of verbal pacing is as important as narrative pacing.

Throughout the audio, character voices are distinct, and consistent, so there’s no mistaking who’s on stage at the moment. Making that distinction isn’t always easy, and I applaud Clark for his ability to present characters with such clarity.

This story is as much a joy to listen to as to read, and words are inadequate to describe how much I love the writing. If I could give the book 10 stars, I would.
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As beautiful as it is heart-wrenching, Beasts of the Earth by James Wade is a novel that is extremely easy to get lost in as it grabs hold of your emotions and twists them ever so elegantly. 

With alternating points of views we get the stories of Harlan LeBlanc, a quiet observer used to being on the outside looking in, and Michael, a young man trapped by the looming shadow of his father. With these two characters at the helm, Wade provides the readers with a story that is both evocative and daunting. Harlan and Michael are each very complicated and complex characters and they stay with you. I love it when characters haunt your mind, and these two definitely fit that bill. It's difficult to not be empathetic when reading their stories, not with Wade putting them forefront in your mind with his words. 

There are were so many emotions that went through me as I read this novel. My emotions mirroed that of Harlan and Michael. I could feel the guilt and pain, but also the challenge of doing and being more. Both sinister and expressive - Wade's writing made me feel as if I was living in the story with both Harlan and Michael. Beautiful writing will do that to you.
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Harlen LeBlanc is the groundskeeper at a highschool and is well known in town for being a bit insular. He finds himself embroiled in a town scandal and commits himself to getting to the truth of what happened. In alternating chapters, we get the story of Michael, a young boy whose father has just returned from prison. Michael is unquieted by his father's actions and wants to do anything he can to protect his family. Slowly, the two stories unravel and weave together in a way that is breathtaking.

Oh, I loved this book. I literally was up til 3am one night because I couldn't put it down. The writing is so evocative. I loved the stark narrative of life interwoven with philosophical and spiritual passages. This was the reading experience I wanted when reading Razorblade Tears, if you liked that book, this will be right up your alley. It reminded me of the writing of vintage John Grisham, a la A Time to Kill or The Chamber - the examination of good and evil and how easily they cohabitate. This story was full of raw emotion that made my jaw ache as I read. Harlen made me want to be a little nicer to strangers because you just never know what deep emotion and honor lies within a person.

I'm off to add all of James Wade's backlist to my TBR.

Thanks to Blackstone Publishing for access to this novel via Netgalley. All opinions above are my own.
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"Sometimes there's worse things than being gone."

In 1965, Michael Fischer lives in the Louisiana bayou with his mother and little sister, Doreen, resorting to stealing from someone else’s traps for food. Munday Fischer, fresh from prison, shows up on their doorstep only to start terrorizing his wife and children once more. Running from the domestic nightmare, Michael meets Remus in the bayou and finds a safe place to land and to learn that not all men are evil. Fast forward to 1987: Harlen LeBlanc works in the Grounds Department at a high school in Comal County, Texas, shuffling through life, keeping to himself, and hiding a dark secret deep down in his shattered heart.

When a high school girl is murdered, LeBlanc’s young coworker is the prime suspect because of his history with the girl and inability to stay away from her. LeBlanc is convinced of the young man's innocence, but in the process of trying to prove it, he progresses swiftly into the crosshairs of law enforcement. Who killed that girl and why? LeBlanc is a loner, and no one really knows him that well, so why would anyone believe anything he says?

In Beasts of the Earth, James Wade tackles the important issues of family, friends, and the danger of suppressing a grim secret and allowing it to consume and destroy from within. This literary fiction will leave readers smoldering with grief at the tragic destruction of childhood innocence and a grown man’s need to remain distant and detached while still going through the motions of living.

In true literary fashion, James Wade is a master at characterization, digging deep into the heart and soul of living beings to craft unforgettable and quite varied personalities, including a tired dog named Chester. The overall pacing is slow and steady but in no way loses steam or stagnates. In fact, this heartbreaking story will grip your thoughts and feelings right from the start, with the author eventually and expertly coalescing the two stories separated by 20 years and plunging the overall story into a plaintive ending.

While Beasts of the Earth is laden with despair and a few heavy-handed aspects of the human condition, such as morality, self-preservation, and guilt, do not think the story will be too mournful to read. Beasts of the Earth also shows some positive aspects of the human existence, such as finding safety and respect; standing up for and protecting others; and accepting truth and consequences, even if it hurts. No life is easy all the time, but some lives are fraught with terror, confusion, and wreckage at every turn. This story presents a literary snapshot of such an existence as a reminder that even while life can be punishing, good people do exist among the villains.
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Beasts of the Earth is a brilliantly written character-driven novel which span two disparate eras:  The first, in the mid-1960’s involves a young man (Michael Fisher) living in a very isolated, dysfunctional household in which his mother encourages dishonest behavior (thievery and truancy) and welcomes her abusive husband home from prison much to Michael’s (and the local community’s) chagrin.  The second plotline set in the late 1980’s chronicles the life of mild-mannered Harlan LeBlanc, groundskeeper at a Central Texas High School, who feels compelled to help a friend who is a suspect in the murder of a popular female student.

Did I mention the beautiful writing? I know it may sound cliche’ but his sentence structures, word choices, vivid descriptions, scene setting, dialogue, etc. is lyrically poetic – resulting in an absolutely delightful reading experience.  The subplots are  rich and layered; filled with family drama, intergenerational trauma, and sprinkled with thought-provoking philosophical themes on good, evil, redemption, forgiveness, and fate.  I absolutely loved this story despite the underlying darkness and despair.   

 I’m looking forward to the next release; until then I will explore his earlier works.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an opportunity to review.
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This book was a good one and wasn’t what I expected at all. It’s worth a read for sure. Thank you for the gifted arc.
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Honestly, I did not know what to expect from this story, Beasts of the Earth. The cover is slick. I knew from one of the former books, River, Sing Out by James Wade I would be taken on a phenomenal journey. Wade did not disappoint. Beasts of the Earth is a poetic and haunting fiction book of place and time set in Texas and Louisiana.  

Violence is part of James Wade’s writing but he is gifted with his words making them come off to the readers as more poetic than violent. In Beasts of the Earth the bloodshed and aggression are softened by the lyrical writing around the setting.  

This story revolves around Harlen LeBlanc who is an unassuming guy living, yet not fully living under the radar.  When an unthinkable crime occurs, he helps to clear a friend of the crime. Intermixed in this story is the past of Harlen and why he has become the person he has. Hands down this book is immersive in both the past and present and it’s deeply haunting. You can almost feel the swampland of Louisiana jumping off the pages. 

Roger Clark, the narrator, makes Wade’s words more haunting. Clark’s voice is rich and deeply expressive. It’s a deepness that envelopes your ears and heart. Clark’s changing from the various characters even from a girl to a boy never broke its cadence. Without a doubt, Clark’s voice conveys Beasts of the Earth as an unforgettable story. This is the first audiobook I heard through the Netgalley app. I encountered no problems. Through their app, I was able to hear the story perfectly well at 1x speed. 

I highly recommend Beasts of the Earth as an audiobook. It is a haunting, unforgettable story that jumps off the pages and embeds into your psyche as you listen. It is truly a galvanizing story written by Wade and brought to life by Clark.
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American novelist James Wade's third novel, "Beasts of the Eart," dovetails two time-separated tales of light among darkness. In Texas, a quiet, polite school groundsman butts up against an appalling act of violence. In the backwaters of Louisiana, a boy grapples with a malevolent father released from jail. The author's magisterial prose, fulsome and freighted with gravity (reminding me, bless me, of Cormac McCarthy), propel a story populated with wonderfully realized characters. Texas and Louisiana blossom on the page.  A morality fable, an ode to brutal landscapes, a hymn to humanity's weakness ... Beasts of the Earth inspires grand thoughts and is a wonderful read.
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3.5 stars, rounding up This is a relatively short novel, but it is packed with prose and emotion. It is James Wade's third, and I have not read any of his other works. 

Our story centers first on Harlen LeBlanc, a 40ish year old groundkeeper at a small high school in Texas. When a local boy is charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Harlen goes on the hunt for evidence to exonerate his friend. What he finds will dig him deeper into trouble than he ever imagined, but maybe not deeper than he thinks he deserves.

A parallel story takes place twenty years earlier in the swamps of Louisiana, where young Michael Fischer is devastated to find his sadistic father has returned home from prison. Though he has promised to look out for his baby sister, Michael finds himself running fast and far, crossing paths with a dog and a poet that he will come to cherish. 

Maybe the whole thing is just too deep for the me I was when I read this, but I was left feeling a little "so what?" at the end of the story. It's beautiful, extremely well-written, and absorbing, but the message fell a touch flat for me. Will I read it again? Probably. It's so short, maybe all it needs is a closer read. Regardless, I recommend giving it a shot!

Thank you to James Wade, Blackstone Publishing, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this ARC!
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Haunting. Gritty. Somber. Poetic. Engrossing.

These are a few of the words that came to mind as I finished reading this book.  It is a heavy and somber story- but one that is written so poetically that it’s a hard one to put down.  Wade leads the reader through two timeframes - each one slowly unwinding until the two intertwine.

“Man and anti-man, and each edging through a darkness both real and imagined, a mirror image of the other and neither betraying the whereabouts of the soul, stolen away, hidden, and all things black before it.”

In the 1965 story, young Michael is growing up without a childhood as he acts as guardian of his younger sister and provider for the family,  When his father returns from prison, evil descends on the house. He finds his way out of the town, full of regrets and anger.  He forges a friendship with Remus, who takes him in and teaches him the survival and life skills his father never did.  

In the 1985 story, Harlan LeBlanc lives a simple, solitary life.  He thrives on routine.  He is a quite man who eats the same lunch everyday, works as the groundskeeper at the school but seems to be harboring a secret.  When one of my his co-workers is accused of murder, Harlan is determined to discover who the real culprit is.  While he puts himself in dangerous situations, the focus of the investigation shifts to him.

In this haunting, beautifully descriptive story, the reader is swept into the small town in Texas.  There is always a question regarding the reliability of the narrator.  Like a constant whisper in the background, the presence of mental illness, penance and justice can be heard throughout.  It amazed me how Wade could suffuse such gritty subjects with eloquent and lyrical descriptions of the landscape and tapestry of the desolate town.

“The rain left the colors of the country deeper, more pronounced, as if the droplets themselves had been painted to match the world. The dirt lots turned overnight to mud and the dead lawns sprouted thistle weed and clover and all that blossomed would soon perish beneath the September sun or the winter to follow—fire or ice.“

This is a heavy story and may not be right for everyone, but those that read the synopsis and choose to pick it up are in for a treat.  Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone publishing for the ARC to read and review.  Pub date: 10.11.22
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Harlen LeBlanc has crafted a quiet life for himself.  In 1987, he works as a groundskeeper at a high school in a small Texas town. He seems gentle and mild-mannered. He keeps himself to himself and sticks to his routine. But when a young coworker, Gene, is accused of murdering a former girlfriend, Harlen can’t let that lie. He determines to investigate for himself, and winds up with the eyes of the law pointing at him.
Michael Fischer steals from other folks’ trap lines in the swamps of Louisiana in 1965. His life is one of grinding poverty and despair, and stealing is the only way he can try to provide for his fanatically religious mother and younger sister while his father, Munday, is in prison. But Munday’s return home doesn’t restore order to the family. Instead, when Munday returns home, trouble follows in his wake. He soon displays the measure of the evil that lurks within him, and when Munday turns that evil on his own daughter, Michael flees. He is taken in by a dying man, Remus, who is the opposite of Munday and who does his best to show Michael how to be a good man even when life’s trials threaten to overwhelm.

The book opens with a prologue that seems almost scriptural in its reading. It describes a watchmaker, toiling diligently at his station, ever winding, ever creating, oblivious to the horde crowding around his workspace seeking salvation. Wanting to be seen. The multitudes cry out, asking why the creator has forsaken them. But the watchmaker continues working, creating. The relentless flow of time and the stolid indifference of a creator to man’s problems is not an obvious part of the story, but it is a constant underlying thread.

James Wade drew me into the stories of both characters, Harlen and Michael. Through their eyes, he paints a vivid picture of the unfairness, the brutality, that life can often inflict upon a person. Michael didn’t ask to be the child of a pedophile and abuser. Harlen didn’t ask for the choices that he finds he must confront as he seeks to establish Gene’s innocence. Yet there they both are, struggling with their respective burdens.

The ending of the book wasn’t what I expected, I don’t think, but I’m not sure it could have ended any other way. There is closure, of a kind, a wrong set right. And while Harlen is a flawed man, broken in a way he cannot redeem, he still brings a little light to at least one person’s life. In the darkness, there is a thread of hope.

Beasts of the Earth is not a quick, easy read. It digs into some dark places in the human psyche and doesn’t flinch from harsh topics. But it’s worth reading for the idea that, even though a man may walk through some of the deepest darkness, it does not have to overwhelm him.

I had good things to say about Wade’s second book, River, Sing Out. Beasts of the Earth is another five-star read for me and establishes Wade firmly as one of my must-read authors.
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BEASTS OF THE EARTH unfolds in two different time lines, with two central narrators. The current setting, 1987, belongs to Harlan LeBlanc, grounds worker at a local school. The historic setting, 1965, belongs to Michael Fischer, an abused and neglected teen. Harlan is one of those character who mostly tries to blend in with the background, to be unobtrusive, do his job, follow his daily routine. Until a sloppy murder investigation leads Harlan to begin his own investigation. Michael’s story is too complex, emotional, and spoiler-y to sum up in a sentence. We’ll leave it at he runs away from home and finds safety and security, albeit temporarily. I found myself emotionally connecting to both Harlan and Michael very early on in the novel. Like Harlan, I, too, prefer routine. And Michael is the wounded animal that anyone would bring inside the house to care for.
While true, 20 years does separate these two storylines, Mr. Wade weaves these two disparate stories together in such a way that grips the reader. I had suspicions as to how the two stories might be connected, but I was completely off base. The unfolding and reveals were a big surprise for me for sure!
It was very easy for me to become absorbed in the reading of this novel. (Ok. Yes, I read this in one afternoon, thanks to no power\Hurricane Ian.) The descriptive passages are dynamic and packed with metaphors. From the swamps to a school bus full of teenagers, I felt immersed in the setting. Like this example:

He crawled across the dust-filmed floor and he spilled forth from the old house and onto the porch, and neither the sun nor LeBlanc would rise. He crawled down from the porch and crawled across the dirt like a beast of the earth.

Wow. Just wow. So powerful and visual, I can practically feel the dirt and grime. And bonus points for the title shout-out.
Vengeance, justice, and good and evil drive this literary crime novel. What truly makes a crime? Surely murder. But what if one murder is to punish another? By the end of the novel, I was questioning if vigilantism might truly be justice for those characters who got away with their crimes. I was also wondering what truly defines a ‘good’ character in a novel.
Mr. Wade’s books, including BEASTS OF THE EARTH, are not sunshine, happiness, and rainbows. (There is a dog in this one though!) These books are gritty and real. And honestly, these are subjects I normally avoid. But sometimes, it’s worth challenging yourself to read outside of your comfort zone. I don’t know that I’d say I enjoyed this book. But I can say it has certainly made such a considerable emotional impression. And I’d read the phone book if James Wade was writing it. Probably with some tissues at hand.
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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.
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If I could I would rate is 4.5 Stars - This author and the word lyrical are tightly bound together. This quote right here gives you an example of why - "The air was thick with the sea's salt and the musk of the bayou where algae blossomed in phosphoric spores and coated narrow channels in green film." It could have easily been stated much more succinctly but instead, the author chooses to paint as he tells the story giving the reader vivid images.

I read fast and most of the time want to be entertained. However on occasion, that does not happen. This book hit me and demanded I savor it. No matter how I tried to speed my read, I had to slow it down, read each and every word and at the same time relish each and every syllable.

Set between two times, the author skillfully aimed the reader's focus while creating a backdrop that enhanced it all. Michael Fischer and Harlen LeBlanc are the main characters. One a young boy struggling to survive in extreme poverty and violence, and one a man who externally appears good and in control yet struggles internally. Watching these two tales evolve and weave led to some horrific and piercing scenes. I found Michael's story to be the most compelling.  He works on survival at a time in his life when he should be going to school or playing baseball.  With a repugnant father and a vague mother Michael tries to grow and take care of his younger sister.  But just how much can one child deal with, and when is it time to choose yourself to live.

Scenes touch on the edge of graphic yet leave much to the imagination, which at times can be more devastating than reading the actual words.
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This story comes full circle and is filled with poetic language and details that had me pondering many questions in my head.

This story is told in two different time periods and points of view, Michael in 1965 and Harlan in 1985. My heart bled for Michael and the home life that he endured, but it wasn't anything new from what we might know from our ancestors. He might have lived in poverty and had a killer for a father, but he was determined not to let his upbringing hold him back. There are things we learn later in the book that continues to haunt him and follows him into the future. The only saving grace for Michael is Remus, a man that takes him under his wing and cares for him after Michael runs away from his situation. We learn that Remus has health issues, but I think Michael's presence seems to extend his life, even if by a few months. They take care of one another the best that they can before time runs out for Remus.

Harlan is a quiet man that does his job at the local high school and stays out of trouble. He has his routine, but when a young woman is found dead on school grounds, he is determined to uncover the true killer. We never know what we are capable of until we are put into stressful conditions such as these. There is a lot to admire about Harlan, but at the same time, there is much to fear, not knowing what he could potentially do to harm another.

I enjoyed the story as it continued to grow and expand, and with the descriptive language, I felt like I was there in the swamps of Louisiana and this small Texas town. I have to say this author does a beautiful job describing everything, from the people to the scenery. There were some connections I made pretty quickly (or at least the assumption, which was later proven correct), but this story left me with many questions! I won't share those questions because it would give away part of the ending. It did leave me thinking about how many can overcome situations that might leave others wanting. We all have it in us to rise above a bad situation.

I felt a wave of emotions reading this book, from sadness to horror, to a little bit of joy. While we know that the underbelly of people can be harsh, this book pulls out every last dreg of humanity. 

This is a book well worth reading, and we give it 4 paws up.
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Alternating between the perspectives of a young boy, Michael, and an older man, Harlan, this engrossing narrative documents the deeply-rooted pain that encompasses the lives of these two tragically linked individuals and the ties that ultimately bind them together.

I have had the incredible opportunity to read this author’s previous two books, and with each one he solidifies his voice at the top of the modern literary Western. In much the same way that the previous books centered on the fine line between vengeance and justice, this story also explores that dilemma, yet weaves in the weight of burden when delivered.

The author’s skilled storytelling created an unsettling and suspenseful exploration of good and evil as well as an intense and impressive character study on the effects of personal trauma and morality. There is an understanding of human nature that makes the rawness of these characters come alive. Every emotion resonates off the page and steers the course of so many lives.

The story is filled with a multitude of captivating lines that speak so much truth and metaphors that will have you pondering their meaning long after the final page is turned. I was overwhelmingly struck by the motif of the pelican throughout the story and its connection in crafting this contemporary parable. For all the cruelty and callousness that dominates this devastatingly bleak environment, there is beauty if you choose to see and a peace that will prevail if you only embrace it.

A compelling and affecting read that is deeply moving, hauntingly atmospheric, and entirely unforgettable.
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As I read this book, I found myself comparing the author to the likes of Erskine Caldwell or John Steinbeck. It is gripping and gritty. The author shows both the best and worse sides of humans.
The story begins in two different locations and timelines. I was curious to see how the author was going to merge the two, as I saw no relation between them. But he does merge them together to create a fascinating, deeply psychological tale of abuse, hardships, depravity, and murder. A tug of war between good and bad, right and wrong, rages and swirls outside and inside the mind of Harlen LeBlanc. He truly desires to be a good man, to be kind, and do the right thing. He is the mild-mannered groundskeeper of the local high school. Folks think him odd but harmless. And he is.
But circumstances push him and force him to take action, to seek justice.
I love the way the author takes the reader back and forth between the present and the past, weaving together the story of Harlen LeBlanc and young Michael Fischer. There are several characters I enjoyed, but at the top of that list was Remus, the kind man who took a terrified, desperate boy in and cared for him.
The author has a forceful writing style. Line after line stood out to me. I’ll give you just a few examples.

“The night glowed metallic. The moon had been cut in two, and LeBlanc could not say if it was growing or fading or perhaps searching for its counterhalf somewhere in all that outer dark, examining the shine of every star as if to discern which scattered pieces of light might help make it whole.”

“He was gone in the moonlight, a black figure slipping through the blue darkness, loping beside deer and jackrabbits in that selfsame dark and by stars reflecting off the surface of stock ponds like holes shot clean through the world.”

“The streetlights hummed their siren songs and called forth great waves of insects to their death…”

“Plant petals curled and stiffened in the pale daylight, and the country was cold, and the sawgrass and moss-covered trees mantled much of the land. The air was thick and the wind biting, and inside the cabin, the fire roared, but there was little warmth felt by those who gathered around it.”

“His soul was blackened. His fate or that thing which LeBlanc believed nearest to fate, had long been decided.”

The deep psychological twists of this story are raw and disturbingly realistic. The true black souls of men are revealed, turning them into beasts of the earth.
If you are a fan of damaged characters and gritty stories, you will enjoy this one from Mr. Wade. It is the first book I’ve read of his, but it won’t be the last. He is a brilliant wordsmith, creating phrases that belong in frames on walls to be admired.
I highly recommend this book.
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