BEASTS OF THE EARTH
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
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Date of Publication: October 11, 2022
Number of Pages: 350 pages
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.
“Beasts of the Earth is a beautiful gut-punch of a novel.” —Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas
PRAISE FOR BEASTS OF THE EARTH
Clueless Gent’s Rating for Beasts of the Earth
I just finished reading Beasts of the Earth, and I am a bit unsettled with the ending; it wasn’t what I expected. But could it be anything else? I imagine it had to end that way, if it had to end at all. It was time.
If that fist paragraph seems a bit odd for a book review, it’s because that’s how my mind processes things after just finishing a book by James Wade. This author is more than a writer, more than a storyteller: he takes words—some simple, some not—and strings them together with an elegancy and purpose that a reader will seldom find anywhere else.
Beasts of the Earth is as thought-provoking as it is soul-provoking. Wade knows how to drive a blade of enlightenment deep into the reader’s imagination. And from that wound comes a trickling of astral ponderances that run rampant as the reader navigates the words and the meanings on the page.
This story follows the paths of Michael and LeBlanc. Although the two paths are told concurrently throughout the story, and although they are set apart by a number of decades, they ultimately come to one end. Michael is a child of the Louisiana swamps, and LeBlanc is an older adult who resides in Comal County, Texas. The only thing they seem to have in common is an unfair association with death; not the inevitability of their own demise, but rather the association of death in others.
“But the past is not a thing to sit still, and there are no new beginnings. The world itself was begun only once. And since that beginning its every rotation has depended on the one before—each circumstance born from the last.”
To say that this author is a master of description is a blatant understatement. Rarely have I read description that so easily seems to put the reader in the scene. For example, the author described a part of a decrepit farmhouse like this: “Weeds grew up through the porch and thick greenbrier vines snaked up the wooden frame of the structure. The paint was peeled and the cedar boards were sun bleached save for a small corner of the house where grew a Lampasas mulberry with its glossy leaves in the summer and its syncarp fruit in the spring.”
In another scene, a character is sitting down and hears a voice in his head. The author wrote, “The voice slithered into his ear.” In my opinion, that description warrants a little chill up a reader’s spine. (I write from experience here.)
But it’s not just description where this author’s brilliance shines; it’s also the dialogue. For instance, in one scene where LeBlanc is trying to break up a fight, he says, “Let’s just all take a step back and unload this gun before it goes off.” It worked.
Between the two storylines, the pacing is pretty constant. It’s a good pace. It’s quick enough to keep a reader engaged, yet slow enough to allow everything to soak into the reader’s imagination. I admit that I re-read several scenes just because they were written so well.
It’s hard for me to describe what kind of story this is because I consider it so unique. However, if Literary Fiction and Crime Fiction ever got together and produced an offspring, it would perfectly describe this story.
After reading only a few pages, I knew my imagination was in for a treat, and I wasn’t wrong. I’m just as sure that your imagination would be delighted to digest all the wonderful words and thoughts between the covers of Beasts of the Earth.
Two winners each receive an autographed copy of Beasts of the Earth.
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