Book review: Debut novel is McCarthy and Woodrell rolled into one |

Book review: Debut novel is McCarthy and Woodrell rolled into one

Ron Krall/For the Steamboat Pilot & Today

“Where All Light Tends to Go,” by David Joy

I’m a sucker for opening paragraphs, and Joy’s hooked me:

“I hid the pickup behind a tangled row of pampas grass that had needed burning a good year of so before. The law never liked for folks to climb the water tower, but I hadn’t ever cared much for the law. I was a McNeely and, in this part of Appalachia, that meant something. Outlawing was just as much a matter of blood as hair color and height. Besides, the water tower was the best place to see graduation caps thrown high when seniors wearing black robes and tearful smiles headed out of Walter Middleton School one last time.”

Jacob McNeely should be graduating from high school, but he’s not because he’s trapped in McNeely skin.

Jacob’s father sells drugs and launders the money through his auto repair shop. He is cruel, vicious and demanding, and tonight, he will insist Jacob “head out to the camp” and take care of a “problem,” an employee who’s “cranked-out” and at risk of snitching. This act sets off a chain of events that tests Jacob’s ability to shed his McNeely skin, to find a way to set his soul — which is distinctly not McNeely — free.

This novel is Cormac McCarthy and Daniel Woodrell rolled into one. The story has pace, tension, inevitability and surprise. It’s got beautiful prose, a strong sense of place, and I fell for Jacob, rooted for him, shed tears for him. It’s one heck of a first novel.

“All the Wrong Places,” by Philip Connors

Philip Connors’ “Fire Season,” his memoir of a season as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico, won the Reading the West award for Non-Fiction writing in 2013 and catapulted Connors into the elite who write about our relationship with land and nature. Now Connors returns with an extension of “Fire Season,” telling his personal story.

Connors was a copy editor for the Wall Street Journal when his brother committed suicide. His brother’s death haunted him, perhaps still does, and in “All the Wrong Places,” Connors tells us, or maybe better said, tries to tell himself, why.

Connors tries to recover his brother Dan’s last days and hours, to uncover the mystery of motive, to resurrect the lost opportunity of missed calls, the hidden meaning in last conversations. And in the meantime, he struggles to find purpose in his own life. It is a redemptive story, sometimes funny, often tragic, incredibly raw and courageous.

Connors is a gifted storyteller. He has an ability to connect us to the world around us through his sensitive, perceptive eye and his skill with the written word. Reading him is food for the soul.

Ron Krall is co-owner of Off the Beaten Path, an independent bookstore in Steamboat Springs. These books are available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.

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