Book Quote:

“Then, what has only just bloomed within him curls brittle and brown at the edges, and he believes now, in the slow seconds of understanding, ephemeral as they ever are, that what lies behind a man in the expanding landscape of his past can never be left behind entirely,…and all that’s left is the caustic certainty that there’s no moving forward unbridled,…that the weight of all that is dragging behind will know no abatement.”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn В (NOV 17, 2010)

Family bonds, particularly between fathers and sons, and mothers and sons, are explored with great sorrow and depth in this elegiac and epic tale of the Skala family, hard-working Czech farmers in Lavaca County. In the fertile flat lands of South Texas, in the fictional town of Dalton, 1895, Karel Skala is the fourth son born to Vaclav and Klara, and the one that results in Klara’s death. Vaclav’s pain shuts him down, and he forsakes holding his son.

Instead, Vaclav treats Karel and his brothers like draught horses and works them to the bone on the farm. As Karel grows and develops into an apt horse rider and racer, Vaclav gambles land, and Karel rides to win. A particular race in 1910 squeezes the last morsel of strained loyalty and affection between Karel, his three brothers, and his father.

The story goes back and forth in time between 1895 and 1924, in a seamless and tension-building tale that is both heart stopping and lushly evocative. Machart writes like a veteran writer and is reminiscent of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, both for his brutal tale of family instability and his towering, metaphorical passages tying the land to the people, and the narrative of his social and moral themes surrounding the decay, anguish, and redemption of the human heart. Like McCarthy, Machart has an arresting, commanding sense of predator and prey:

“Across the creek along the far bank, near the tangle of water oak and pine roots and the deep impression of boot soles in the wet silt, she [the amber-eyed horned-owl] discerns the slightest distinction in the clustered dancing of bluestem spires, knowing by some sharp and instinctive insistence in the grainy fibers of her muscles that rain and wind bend the uppermost inches of grass blades while the scuttling of prey and the dragging of a tail will set the reeds to shivering upward from the tillers.”

Machart’s frequently long and undulating sentences are not awkward or burdensome, as his assured, poetic, and elegant style takes the reader deeper and more evocatively into the richness of the landscape and the texture of Karel’s pain. Soon after the race of 1910, Karel quits riding, folds up into himself, and begins his own family and future without reconciling his past. The story brings the reader into key events in a well-paced manner that also teases out the facts gradually. The past and the present intersect in the denouement with an uncompromising and resolute exhilaration. Getting there allows the reader to accompany Karel into the territory of his tormented soul.

“It occurred to Karel that this was the way the whole county must see them, as the family that everyone but they themselves recognized as such, and the thought of being the kind of fool who called for fair weather when green clouds folded up in hail-bearing corrugations on the horizon wicked at him until he felt parched and withered and longing, like a cotton plant wilting in a month-long drought, for the unabated battering of that which might save him.”

Whether it is the rich, metallic smell of rain; the mineral scent of flooded soil; a sun-struck fence; a moonlit winter pine; or stray swirls of cotton in the brisk, smoky air of a burning mesquite tree, Machart sears the images of his story so thoroughly that they will cascade down your spine and give you an electric buzz. I can open the book anywhere and return to eloquent passages that, even lifted from the story and taken independently will cause my heart to flutter. Compelling, unyielding, and utterly satisfying.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 76 readers
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade; 1 edition (October 21, 2010)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt


November 17, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , ,  В· Posted in: Debut Novel, Family Matters, Reading Guide, Texas, Wild West

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.