Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: "Cloudsplitter" by Russell Banks

For a book as long and with as many dead spots as Russell Banks’ Cloudsplitter, it is a surprisingly easy book to read that has really interesting moments that are memorable, even when a good majority of the novel is not. Banks has always been an author I have had an interest in reading, and I think I may have picked his most inaccessible book, being a 700 page historical novel with a very unreliable narrator telling it too a college professor. So in that sense it is a lot like Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. It brings up questions of truth and sanity as to what is being told to us and if there is even a person on the other end. It is a good thing that this book has a lot more action in it than The white Tiger, because it propels this book to being an okay read despite a lot of my points of disinterest lie in a lack of enthusiasm for the subject matter. The story told is one about John Brown, the famed abolitionist whose failed slave revolt at Harper’s Ferry drew a fine line between doing what is right and being a pure, unadulterated and dangerous zealot. But this is told to us from the perspective of his son Owen, who was his father’s right hand man, up until he deserted him at said revolt and went into hiding in the West. When he is telling the story, he is an old man who might just be reaching for a redemptive hand by telling his story to Miss Mayo, an assistant to a highly regarded professor. And it is a story that is filled with violence (especially a graphic scene near the end that paints these so called heroes in a murderous light), but also one that is very deep in what it says about fathers, religion and the ways in which greatness can leave those we love destitute and alone. If you like historical fiction about the Civil War, this book is a must read.
Rating: 4/5

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