BEASTS OF THE EARTH
Categories: Literary Fiction / Crime Fiction
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
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October 11, 2022 *** 350 pages
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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.
PRAISE FOR BEASTS OF THE EARTH
“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
“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
“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
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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.
James Wade lives and writes in the Texas Hill Country with his wife and daughter. He is also the author of River, Sing Out and All Things Left Wild, a winner of the prestigious MPIBA Reading the West Award for Debut Fiction, and a recipient of the Spur Award for Best Historical Novel from the Western Writers of America.
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GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY!
TWO WINNERS!! – each receive an autographed copy of Beasts of the Earth.
(US only. Ends midnight, CDT, October 21, 2022)
*** A RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY ***
CLICK TO VISIT THE LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE TOUR PAGE
FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST, UPDATED DAILY, or visit the blogs directly:
|10/11/22||Review||That’s What She’s Reading|
|10/11/22||Review||Writing and Music|
|10/12/22||Audio Review||Hall Ways Blog|
|10/12/22||BONUS Promo||LSBBT Blog|
|10/13/22||Review||The Book’s Delight|
|10/13/22||Review||Julia Picks 1|
|10/14/22||Audio Review||It’s Not All Gravy|
|10/14/22||Review||Librariel Book Adventures|
|10/17/22||Review||The Plain-Spoken Pen|
|10/17/22||Review||The Clueless Gent|
|10/18/22||Review||Chapter Break Book Blog|
|10/19/22||Audio Review||Forgotten Winds|
|10/20/22||Review||Reading by Moonlight|
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2 thoughts on “Book Tour: Beasts of the Earth by James Wade”
*Mic drop* This may be the most insightful and poignant review I’ve ever read of yours. Perfection, and yes, yes, yes on all points, print & audio. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts so eloquently.
Wow, Kristine, I’m touched by your kind words about my review. Like you, I struggled to find words adequate for showing what a terrific book this is. I wasn’t sure I’d even come close. I can’t wait to read his next book.