Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Wake of Forgiveness
What do you get when you mix Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Shakespearean tragedy and an exceptional cover with homesteaders? Wait, wait, wait we'll be adding in strong, evocative writing too. No need to guess my friend. It's The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart.
Take a look at that cover. Isn't it beautiful? It's smart too. Everyone loves a horse. It is not a gender specific symbol. The photo is powerful so the consumer/reader can expect drama but it isn't overwhelmingly masculine of threatening. You don't immediately think "Oh this is about male characters and that's not what I read" and stroll on. You pick it up to see what it's about and that alone is a win.
In Lavaca County, Texas 1895 Czech immigrant Vaclav Skala is left alone to raise his four sons and work his land. His wife has died giving birth to their son Kaval. We don't know what Vaclav was like prior to his wife's death but afterward he is a heartless man obsessed with success. His sons are worked so hard their necks are permanently bent from plowing. He is a brutal man with one Achilles heel, horses. When his son Kaval displays an aptitude for horse racing, Vaclav tries to use it to increase his wealth. This is fathers verses sons and brother verses brother on an operatic scale but never unbelievable.
The writing in Wake is gorgeous. It's the great strength of this novel that these emotionally harsh lives are described in wonderful language. You can feel the texture of the wind, smell the tobacco and wrap yourself up in the bitter complexity of the family relationships. Machart doesn't allow the poetry of his writing to interferer with the action. Wake has the prerequisite amount of hustle and bustle for a western it just describes all that activity with juicy vigor.
All of the westerns I read are judged up against Lonesome Dove--a perfect novel. How did The Wake of Forgiveness match up? They are very different books despite the commonality of setting. Lonesome is a celebration of people. Wake is a study of Fate. For better or worse Lonesome Dove is my benchmark--oh well. The Wake of Forgiveness is no Lonesome Dove but it is very good and holds the promise of a writer capable of a Lonesome Dove of his own.