Beasts of the Earth
by James Wade
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Pub Date 11 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 18 Nov 2022
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
“Wade’s pitch-perfect, personality-driven dialogue sings in the voice of life, and his ability to meld existential thought, situational metaphor, and cinematic setting is a full-bodied experience…A soul-deep exploration of a wounded man in crisis, James Wade’s Beasts of the Earth…secures his position as an author of extraordinary merit.”
-New York Journal of Books
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• Also Available: River, Sing Out and All Things Left Wild
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Average rating from 33 members
Wade’s Beasts of the Earth, his forthcoming and latest novel, could be subtitled the Ballad Of Harlan LeBlanc. It is a lyrical haunting descriptive tale that threads the needle between heaven and hell, between good and evil, between penance and guilt. It is one if those stories that is thick and rich and absorbing.
We begin with two separate alternating points of view. One is an odd duck named Harlan LeBlanc who lives a quiet life in an East Texas town where he works as a high school groundskeeper, keeps to himself, makes no small talk, and, if you asked him, he would say his favorite book is Of Mice and Men. He doesn’t bother anyone and just lives a simple life until all hell breaks loose and he finds himself near the center of the maelstrom.
The other narrative balancing against LeBlanc’s world is that of Michael whose father is returning from prison after serving his term for child molestation. Michael’s world is a dark legend of pain and misery in the swamp. He hates his father, but then everyone does. He’s just a kid and he’s trapped.
It’s a fable about two innocents coming face to face with evil and feeling guilt for how they deal with it, guilt that will haunt them all their days. It’s a dark tale, but told with such poetry.
This was my first time reading this author and I really enjoyed this book! GREAT characters, good solid story line. I saw afterwards that he has two more books available and bought them immediately. The synopses of both sounded right up my alley. I have a new author to stalk. Lol.
What an absolutely amazing, beautiful and powerful book. James Wade is a lyricist with the written word. I will be thinking about this story for a long time. Some books just seep into your soul and stay with you. This is one of those rare books. A gift to those of us who love to read. Thank you James Wade.
When you make a mistake, own it and fix it. It was a mistake not to read James Wade’s first two novels. I’ll have to fix that. Because VISHNU TAKE THE WHEEL.
His third book is *phenomenal.*
BEASTS OF THE EARTH had the oppressively hot energy of crackling brush burning away at a Texas ranch; the haunting prickle of neck-sweat on an airless day in the bayou.
The two locales, Texas and Louisiana, give a bedrock of southern gothic grit for the characters to work upon. Doggone if they don’t flourish in this darkness.
I saw shades of TRUE DETECTIVE, but the story of Harlan LeBlanc isn’t susceptible to a Season 2 dip. The tale of this high school groundskeeper is written in toto, with prose as lyrical as its contents are sinister.
When LeBlanc’s young coworker is accused of an awful crime, the introverted custodian wills himself to supportive action. But we dwell also in the past. In 1965, young Michael Fischer is terrorized by the coming return of his irredeemable father.
By 1987, a sordid history of cruelty must be reconciled if LeBlanc is to help his friend. It’s the challenge of his life and it makes for an impossibly engaging book, all the way to the astonishing finish.
Beasts of the Earth by James Wade is very highly recommended literary fiction.
Two timelines are followed in the novel. First, in 1987 Harlen LeBlanc is an employee of the grounds department at Carter Hills High School in Texas. He is a quiet man who keeps to himself and his routines. When his coworker and recent high school graduate, Gene Thomas, is discovered holding the dead body of a former girlfriend, he is charged with her murder. LeBlanc is certain that Gene is not responsible and he sets out to find the guilty party.
In Louisiana in 1965, 12 year-old Michael Fischer tries his best to protect his younger sister and survive with his fanatical mother. He steals from trap lines in the bayou to provide for his family. Then his father, a child rapist and murderer, returns from serving his prison sentence. His father's evil actions eventually result in Michael fleeing and finding help and safety with an older man who is dying, but more importantly is a kind and good man who rescues him. He teaches Michael to be good and care even when the world around you is bad and uncaring.
This is a beautifully written, descriptive novel that skillfully intertwines the two stories in the alternate time lines. The narratives in the two timelines are both tightly plotted and create suspense in events that are surely coming in both story lines. Although crimes and investigations occur, Beasts of the Earth is not a procedural or investigative novel. It is a pensive, thoughtful novel reflecting on what it means to be a truly good person in a world full of wickedness and corruption. Even in the most forlorn and bleak moments, there is still a small measure of hope and, perhaps, redemption for the characters.
Beasts of the Earth is a visceral, disturbing tale that explores polarizing themes, including hate and love, fate and free will, trauma and goodness. It poetically yet starkly confronts how to deal with evil and guilt all while moving steadfastly toward a heartbreaking ending.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Blackstone Publishing via NetGalley.
The review will be published on Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Edelweiss, and Amazon.
Beasts of the Earth by James Wade was a well crafted story.
Wade is a remarkable and very gifted author.
This is an impressive and stunning book!
The author's storytelling is one of a kind.
The descriptions were beyond vivid and the characters hooked me immediately.
I enjoyed this story and read it in one day!
“I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.”
Thank You for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!
I will post my review to my blog, platforms, BookBub, B&N, Kobo and Waterstone closer to pub date.
This was a new author for me . I never read anything from this author before but for the most part I really liked this book. I thought the whole story was amazing. I honestly didn’t want this book to end. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with on the next book they write. I usually judge a book from the cover because for me it shows if it’s going to be interesting or not and I loved the book.
Beasts of the Earth maybe James Wade's best work yet. I have been a fan since his debut novel All Things Left Wild, but his writing talent has matured and this book has a depth that comes from a seasoned author.
This book intertwines two stories happening twenty years apart.
Michael Fischer is a young boy whose never had the opportunity to be a child. His violent father has wreaked havoc on his family and he is left to pick up the pieces of their shattered life. When his father's return from prison threatens his life he runs off to the bayou where he is rescued by a poet.
Twenty years later a murder shocks the small town and Harlen LeBlanc a soft spoken maintenance man can't believe that his co-worker was involved. He goes against the grain, and endangers himself in order to prove who was really behind the atrocious act.
The thing about James Wade writing is it is so decadent. It's the kind of literary voice you either love or you hate but you FEEL to your bones. I for one love the languorous descriptions and the fullness that his voice gives to his books and characters. This book proves beyond a doubt that James Wade is a true voice for the rural American experience.
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.
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.
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.