Cover Image: I Am the Light of This World

I Am the Light of This World

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this just wasn't for me. a bit too graphic and i had to put it down. thank you netgalley & the publisher for the arc in exchange for my honesty

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Michael Parker, acclaimed short fiction writer, presents I Am the Light of This World, a gut-wrenching, evocative piece of literary fiction guaranteed to stir up emotion and questions in its readers. This story of a small town Texas teen who gets himself mixed up in a situation that sends him to prison for 44 years is nothing if not thought-provoking and harrowing. It requires readers to examine the criminal justice system and its effects on the imprisoned, their friends and family, and society as a whole, and begs the question, "Can we ever truly escape our past, or are we just made up of the bits and pieces of everything that has ever happened to us?"

This story follows Earl as both a young and old man, before he went to prison and after he got out. Earl, a music aficionado who doesn't know much about the world beyond his small town of Stovall, Texas, meets a girl named Tina in the woods in the early 1970s and they start a relationship. Tina comes from a hardscrabble life much like Earl and the two hit it off. But when Tina asks Earl to drive her to Austin to see her mother in the asylum, Earl's life goes completely off-course. He ends up in prison and Tina ends up dead.

Now 44 years later, Earl is out on parole and thrust into a world unrecognizable. So much has changed from those lazy, hazy days of the 70s, leaving Earl, a man who perceives the world through a unique lens, scrambling to find footing. He decides to leave Texas and heads to Oregon, where he settles down as the tenant of a woman who some may also call a bit odd and peculiar, just like Earl. But just as Earl is beginning to make roots for himself in his newfound hometown, his past catches up to him and forces him to make a life-altering decision.

There's so much to be said about Parker's I Am the Light of This World. Absolutely a conversation starter, this provocative novel would make an excellent literary book club read due to its controversial subject matter and jaw-dropping ending. There are so many lessons to be learned and discussed about poverty, privilege, sexuality, criminal justice, and reformation on these pages. Parker has left me much to stew over in the coming days.

Content aside, this story is lyrically written and is quite atmospheric and enveloping. Furthermore, Earl is a wholly unique and intriguing character, who at times reminds me of a saner version of Karl Childers from Sling Blade. Parker has a poetic way of telling a story and I was fully absorbed in this unsettling tale.

SPOILERS AHEAD ... The ending of this novel has to be discussed because it came out of left field and left me with so many questions. Parker wrote Earl as a likable character; a man who was wrongly accused and wholly reformed. But then that ending happens and it made me doubt and question everything I had just read. Are we supposed to believe that Earl was in fact responsible for Tina's death or are we meant to assume that prison hardened Earl into the very thing of which he was falsely accused? Was a murderer imprisoned or did prison turn him into a murder? There's so much to think about here!

Recommended to readers who enjoy novels that are both gritty and disturbing, yet oddly beautiful at the same time.

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Everything about this book should have worked for me, but in the end, it was overly descriptive, way too much detailed sex, and just a style of writing that I had a hard time connnecting.

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This is a dark novel but I mostly enjoyed it. However, a few factual inaccuracies in relation to setting occasionally took me out of the story. Overall, I would recommend with the caveat that there are some triggering and graphic scenes.

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Earl is 17 years old and a loner, dreamer, and lover of music. His father has abandoned the family, and his mom essentially abandons her children, too. Left to his own devices in Stovall, Texas, he meets Tina and becomes her lover and friend. But when he borrows a cousin's car and drives her to see her mom in Austin, things begin to unravel. Two days later, Earl is arrested for Tina's death, which he can't remember. Despite the assistance of his lawyer Arther, Earl is sentenced for the crime and spends over 40 years in prison. After his release, he struggles to fit in. Eventually, he settles with a family on the Oregon coast. But he cannot escape his past.
The book's description says that one decision can irrevocably change the course of a young man’s life, but in this case, it was way more than one decision. Yes, Earl makes several decisions that affect him, but his family and "friends" are involved too.
This novel does not meet its PR as a gritty, gripping and gorgeously written story. Instead, it's filled with graphic sexual images and content, plus plenty of profanity and drug use. I spent most of my reading time cringing.
I also don't get the title. It should have involved water rather than light.

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Published by Algonquin Books on November 15, 2022

A librarian tells Earl Boudreaux that her mother would like Earl because strange things come out of his mouth. I like I Am the Light of This World for the same reason. Earl is not well educated. He’s not a conventionally deep thinker. He prefers simplicity and yields to uncertainty. He seems to occupy an otherworldly place as an observer who is powerless to affect the course of his drifting life. Yet Earl’s thoughts, which tend to begin with and come back to pedal steel and lessons he finds in Lead Belly’s biography, lead him to ask intriguing questions and make insightful connections.

The story is told in two parts, separated by “the in-between” that spans all the presidents between Carter and Trump. Most of the events described in the first part occur over the course of a few days. Earl is 17, living in Stovall, Texas. His older twin brothers are troublemakers. He has friends with names like Sleepy and Moon, but Earl spends most of his time alone. He likes to sit in the woods and read about Lead Belly. That’s what he’s doing when he meets Tina. She quickly becomes his girlfriend, or at least his sex partner. Tina persuades Earl to drive her to Austin. She says she wants to visit her mother, who has been committed to a psychiatric hospital. As soon as they reach Austin, however, Tina changes the plan. Earl tags along, enjoying the weed that Tina’s friend provides. It's much better than the ditch weed he steals from his brothers.

Unhappy with what he sees Tina doing with the weed supplier, Earl decides to walk to a park that has a swimming pool resembling a pond. He hooks up with two girls who are about his age and with a guy in his mid-twenties named Tom, a man who makes his living selling meth and coke and ludes and weed. The girls are happy to provide sexual favors in exchange for the drugs. Earl finds himself doing the same, although he’s so high after sampling all the drugs he doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Earl spends the next couple of days and nights in a haze that is fueled by drugs and the absence of sleep.

Earl is at the center of a dramatic event. As he drives back to Stovall, fueled by meth, Earl is arrested and charged with murder. He can’t give a coherent account of his time, although his memories return over the next few days. His lawyer isn’t a legal whiz but he’s a nice guy who understands the odds of a teen with no money or social connections getting a fair trial in East Texas. The prosecutor injects a doubt about Earl’s sexuality to assure that his trial isn’t fair.

In the novel’s second part, the in-between has passed and Earl is drifting again. He makes his way to Oregon, getting off the bus when the moment seems right, and starts a new life in Cliffside. He’s befriended by a librarian and by the librarian’s mother, who rents him a room above her garage. He’s befriended by a swimming instructor who becomes the first person in Stovall to guess some details of his past. He eventually agrees to work on a farm operated by the librarian’s son-in-law. Life is simple but good, the kind of life Earl wants. He seems content, if not happy.

Earl doesn’t want to blame anyone else for his troubles and wonders how he can prepare himself to die if he doesn’t blame himself. Earl has spent decades thinking of himself as a horrible person. The novel’s dramatic question is whether, with the help of supportive people who don’t treat him like trash, he can overcome that self-punishment and achieve a measure of contentment.

While the plot is engaging, the novel’s strength lies in its details. Earl is obsessed by memories of the long telephone cord on his mother’s phone, the transistor radio his father gave him, turnstiles and the negative adjectival. He rambles about those topics when he’s high, yet music is the only subject that Earl can comfortably discuss when he’s straight. He’s not keen on defending the South (Earl is offended by racism), but it’s the only place he’s known until he takes a bus to Oregon. In a discussion of music, he makes the point that jazz, blues, and country music originated in the South. (Rock was certainly influenced by Southern musicians, but Earl probably pushes the argument too far when he claims that rock also originated in the South.) There are so many references to songs I love that the novel seems to come with a soundtrack.

Earl's conversations about music with his lawyer before and during the in-between are one of the few sources of joy in his life. Earl feels his life moving in the syncopated time of music, draped in pedal steel: “There goes your heart, struggling to stay in rhythm and about to bust out all at once.”

I Am the Light of This World is told in the third person, but the narrative voice tracks the kind of language that would be natural to Earl. The narration takes on the rhythm of Earl’s life. For example, “it was hard to say what he was feeling because people did not understand him when he tried. He would say he felt like pedal steel and draw blank faces. He’d say he felt like a midnight train with two lights on behind and the red light was his mind and they would just study his mouth.”

While the story is fundamentally bleak from start to finish, it encourages the reader to root for Earl. Michael Parker makes it possible to understand Earl and even to care about him. Earl has little control over the events that shape his life. He’s not equipped to make good choices. He is nevertheless a compelling character, a young (and then an old) man with whom the reader can easily sympathize. The story seems to offer the hope that new friendships near the end of a life can turn that life around. Although he likely knows that redemptive endings are what book clubs crave, Parker avoids the temptation of a feel-good ending. He tells the story with honesty, compassion, and a good dose of pedal steel.


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ALGONQUIN BOOKS TOUR – Scheduled – November 21, 2022 – 3.5 Stars

I AM THE LIGHT OF THIS WORLD – by Michael Parker

The year is 1973; seventeen-year-old Earl Boudreaux, and his family, formerly from Louisiana, moved, for reasons unknown to him, to Stovall, Texas, where he lives with his twin older brothers, Cary and Larry, a phone-addicted mother—who pays little to no attention to her growing boys as she jaws the ears off of her sisters via Ma Bell what seems like 24/7 (an area Earl reflects on frequently throughout the narrative)—and a father who is vaguely around.

Earl spends his life and time as a loner, preferring to listen to music on the radio his father gave him—he has a penchant for pedal steel and quoting songs lyrics—would rather read a book in the woods instead of socializing that is until he meets Tina.

When Tina talks Earl into driving her to Austin to see her mother, Earl’s world turns completely upside when the two get separated, and Tina goes missing; the police find blood in the trunk of his car, and Earl is sentenced to a crime he didn’t commit.

The novel's second half jumps forty-four years when Earl is released from prison and must learn to navigate this new world he’s been thrust into, concluding with an ending I didn’t see coming.

I have to admit; I had a Pollyanna mentality regarding how the storyline would play out, but, as in real life, that isn't always the case which makes Earl a character I had no trouble empathizing with…Uhhhhh, let’s just say—to a point.

Thank you, NetGalley and Algonquin Books (Workman Publishing), for providing me with an eBook and a paperback ARC of I AM THE LIGHT OF THIS WORLD at the request of an honest review.

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Thanks to Algonquin Books for this ARC! Here are some of my thoughts:

- I liked this book, it was very eye opening.
- Part one was very graphic and left me feeling queasy at times.
- The ending left me scratching my head, and I’m still not sure what to make of it.
- Life after prison was heartbreaking

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This was a beautifully written book about Earl, a poor teenage boy with his head in the clouds in 1970s Texas, who finds himself at the center of a murder investigation, his memory of the events of those terrible few days, and his life more than 40 years later. Earl is one of the most fascinatingly different characters I’ve read in a really long time, and his difference is precisely what makes him suspicious to small town cops. Written in poetic prose, there is much here about music, emotion, memory, and how dreamers with an open hearted way of thinking and being in the world are failed by society. I rooted for Earl all the way to the last pages and I’m still not sure just what to make of the ending.

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4 1/2

At the opening of I Am the Light of This World by Michael Parker, Earl, a small-town-Texas-17-year old boy, frequently described by others as being apart, a dreamer, is falling for a girl named Tina who he met in the woods. She weaves a story about a mother in an asylum, who she must visit. Despite not having a license, Earl borrows a car from his cousin, Leif, and drives Tina to Austin where it soon becomes obvious that Tina doesn’t want to visit her mother, but actually an old boyfriend who can give her the party she wants. Things take a bad turn with Earl ending up in prison. When he gets out, forty years later, the world has changed so much that he feels like an alien, although in some ways, he always has been.

Because of Earl’s “otherness,” it’s difficult to know just how reliable of a narrator he is, even insofar as to wonder if his recollection of events in Austin was real due to the ending of the novel, which I’ll not share here. If we assume that what Earl says happened, really happened, then he becomes part of a system that doesn’t work. He’s a tragic character who has been let down by society. He’s a gentle dreamer who’s had to survive in the worst part of America. However, the ending points to more than just a gentle dreamer but to a do-anything-to-survive-type of person or has this part of Earl always existed? I don’t know. I certainly would never have had that thought until the end. But things happen when Earl is under the influence, some not-very-nice-things. And, yet, after Earl’s release from prison, he associates with some perceptive people who seem to think the world of him. Is he that? Is he a kind, good person? Gentle? Or is he deceptive? And maybe this reading is just me (probably, as well as my current mindset) because I certainly haven’t read any one else voice this.

When I read the title “I Am the Light of This World,” I truly thought I was reading an inspirational novel. I did a little search and discovered it’s the title of a religious blues song (is that a thing?) and presume that’s where the title came from since Earl’s obsession with music may be even greater than mine. (ha.) I Am the Light of This World is sometimes sarcastically funny but mostly it’s sad with a predetermined sadness, so, no, not inspirational. It is the stuff of a blues song, however.

Apart from characters and plot, there is the writing that is seriously beguiling. There is something entrancing about Michael Parker’s writing style that made me want to keep reading despite not actively enjoying the story. Feeling compelled to read material that is sometimes painful suggests, to me, a very gifted writer and makes me want to read his back titles. Perhaps this will give me a further clue as to what I just read. Ah, yes, I am willing to concede cluelessness (again).

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Micheal Parker, Author

When 17 year old Earl goes to prison for a murder and then gets out 40 years later, he tries to fit back into lives that have gone on without him. He struggles to make his way after all of the changes that have happened in the world.

This book was an incredible look into what happens when a kid goes to prison and comes out as a grown man. I thought it was very well written and takes you on a journey that is not talked about very often. I felt this book was a great look into that journey. I give this book a solid 5 out of 5 stars.

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This book's jacket blurb has it described as a 'gut punch of a novel.' There were definitely some grim moments where I noticed my stomach turning, but I wouldn't necessarily label it in this way.

"I Am the Light of This World" by Michael Parker is narrated by Earl, a teenager from Texas in the 1970s whose fate is completely upended when he travels to Austin with his girlfriend. After a wild couple of days filled with some major debauchery, his girlfriend has gone missing, and his trunk is filled with her blood. Plus, it seems he can't quite remember what took place. It's a great set-up but the novel wasn't written in a way that felt cohesive to me. There's a lot of jumping back and forth in time in the first half of the book, which takes the reader away from the action in some places. Some of the scenes are pretty graphic too, so it's not for the faint of heart.

There were some elements of the story that I thought were intriguing. Earl has a completely unique mind (possibly on the autism spectrum?), so the way he views the world is interesting and makes him both an unreliable but quirky narrator. It was difficult at first to get used to the fractured thoughts and tangents, but eventually, I respected the way Parker decided to create such a different character. I did also appreciate how the story followed a large chunk of Earl's life so we can see where he ended up after some decades have passed.

This would have a been a four-star read for me but then...I read the end. I absolutely hated the ending of this book. There was too much ambiguity, and I was left with way more questions than answers. I'm not sure whether the plot holes that weren't tied up was an intentional choice or not. I closed the book and just felt this utter frustration that I had spent time invested in this story for it to end up this way. I don't think I'd recommend this book to anyone because of this.

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Earl has lived two lives. Before, he was a teenager with his first love, Tina. Known as a loner and a dreamer, his family is poor and he is astonished that Tina is interested in him. He is willing to do anything she asks so that she will stay.

After, Earl is an older man. His dreams are to learn to swim like an Olympian does, to have a small apartment where he can watch the river and listen to music and have some true friends.

Between there is the crime. Earl takes Tina to Austin to visit her mother. Two days later, Tina is dead and Earl is charged with her murder. It turns out that Tina lied to him about everything, starting with her name, her mother's location and everything in between. Earl knows he didn't kill her but he spent his two days in Austin in a drug filled haze and can't account for much of his time. Coming from a poor family and the victim having been from a wealthy one, he is sentenced for a crime he didn't commit.

Michael Parker is one of my favorite authors. He writes of those who are often forgotten and ignored by society and his character creation is superb. The small details he includes brings a character to life and he is non-judgmental about their flaws. Readers will find themselves sympathetic to Earl and interested in his life. This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

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I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The writing is terrific, poetic and lyrical with classic song lyrics peppered throughout. I rushed through the book to see how things would turn out for Earl, the main character. The book opens with 17-year-old Earl falling hard for Tina, a pretty new girl in Stovall, a very small town in Texas. In a fateful decision, Earl agrees to drive Tina to see her mother, who is in an asylum in Austin. Earl borrows a car from his cousin and the narrative of this story begins in earnest. Before he knows it, Earl has spent two days awake on drugs, Tina is nowhere to be found and there is a lot of blood in the car’s trunk.

Forty years later, Earl is released from prison and sets about making a new life for himself in a small, coastal town in Oregon. Just as he is settling in with friends he couldn’t have dreamed up, his past catches up to him.

Part of the fun of this novel lies in overseeing Earl as he navigates a world that is 40-some years older than when he was last in it. For instance, never having seen a computer, Earl refers to the computers at the library as “monitors” and everyone gives him strange looks. The book is unusual in that it skips Earl’s years in prison, leading to a direct comparison between the world as it was in the 70’s to as it is in the 2010’s. I had a lot of fun with Earl’s 70’s classic song memories, too. After picking up an old turntable, Earl and a friend spend considerable free time searching for 70’s vinyl. The recall of these albums and songs made me smile.

[Slight spoilers] Despite its interesting subjects, however, this book is not “fun”. We root for Earl to settle down and make new friends, but he can’t seem to catch a break from his past. The ending, when it comes, is fitting, but hardly makes for a happy story. (I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the ending, as it is the only issue that I have with the book, other than that its title doesn’t seem to fit. I don’t require that everything is wrapped up nice and neat in order to appreciate a story, but this book’s ending was as abrupt as it comes. And, it’s why I give the book 4 stars instead of 5. As I reflect on the reading experience, though, it becomes less and less important that the ending wasn’t satisfactory. I appreciate the ride more and more, and lament the sudden stop less.) Recommended.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest opinions about this book.

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Thanks to Algonquin Books for including me in this book tour for “I Am the Light of This World” by Michael Parker. In this book, we follow Earl and the one day that changed his entire life. Falsely sentenced to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, this poetic book is split between the present and the past in a gripping and sad story.

This book was a lot to take in. Earl is a young man who seems to float through life. He doesn’t see things the same way we do. Lost in his own mind, he seems to become an easy scapegoat for people looking to take advantage of someone.

The language in this book was beautiful. Parker’s expression of Earl is poetic language and unusual questions. While Earl’s detached thoughts don’t help his case, they do help us see the mind of a dreamer, which is endlessly fascinating.

In the end, this book was a 3 star read for me. If you’re looking for a unique read, this book is out now! Check it out!

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1970s - Stovall, Texas. Earl is a seventeen year old with his head in the clouds. He meets a girl named Tina, who convinces him to drive her to see her mother in Austin, Texas. On their journey they get separated, and Earl is questioned by the police for her disappearance. He can’t remember all of the details and finds himself sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit.

Michael Parker’s writing is stunning and evokes many emotions. It was easy to grow attached to Earl as he is a loner and easily taken advantage of.

I liked that the book was written in two parts — what happened in the early 1970s and then Earl starting again once he is released from prison in 2018. The ending came pretty abruptly and I was left shocked and wanting a little more.

I AM THE LIGHT OF THIS WORLD is a thought-provoking novel about the decisions we make and redemption.

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Can Earl rebuild his life? He spent 40 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and now he's moved across the country for a fresh start. The first part of this novel deals with his teen years in the early 1970s, when he didn't use the best judgement. The second half, as he navigates a changed world as well as his own changes is more interesting. He's an intriguing character as are the people he meets in Oregon. Things don't go as smoothly as he might have hoped- no spoilers from me. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. A good read.

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After a wild drug-infused weekend, in Austin, a young man finds himself arrested as a suspect in the disappearance of a young woman. I knocked off a star for the ending.

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Gritty and yet elegant, I AM THE LIGHT OF THIS WORLD is a stunning page turner recommended for fans of literary fiction. Michael Parker grabs the reader and does not let go. His beautiful writing is rich with descriptive details and each scene has an immersive quality. The plot is well thought-out and the ending is satisfying.

This novel should appeal to fans of Michael Farris Smith.

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This book was not my type of book and I didn't finish reading it. There were parts in the book that were just a bit too descriptive for my taste. I also had a hard time following the story line but that may also have been because I didn't like the content. I generally like stories like this but I could have done without the vivid sex descriptions.

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