Top Shelf for July: ‘Bright’s Passage’

Top Shelf pick for July in The Independent : Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter.
Reviewed by BookPerson Chris Hoyt


Everything we hold dear is in the wheelbarrow.

The cat’s in the car and our eyes are still wide with what’s behind us. Whether it was due to ignorance or willful arrogance has yet to be determined. But one thing’s for sure; the neighbors have a lot of explaining to do.

A forest fire is not a thing unheard of in these parts. And though it does not carry with it the notoriety of its California counterparts, it is a sad math whose variables rarely ever change; high winds and dry grass are a fearful combination in the hands of incompetence. And the world is filled with incompetent hands. That much we have learned, and the hard way at that. So let’s have ourselves a drink, you and I. If ever there was occasion, we have earned it. The fire is out and putting it so was a hard bark to scratch. Let us sit for a spell at the property line and catch our breath. We can talk about a brush fire and consider the irony in its perfect timing.

Around the time our neighbors set fire to the field, I was 20 some odd pages into Bright’s Passage.  Henry Bright has set fire to his cabin.  His wife is dead. His child is still wet from birth and crying. The fire is growing out of control and the horse claims to be an angel. So begins the tale of Henry Bright, a man caught between Hell and Heaven and a fire spreading in between.

As we follow young Henry across a burning West Virginia, we find Josh Ritter doing what he does best. As an accomplished singer/songwriter, Ritter is no stranger to the art of storytelling.  Songs like “The Temptation of Adam” speak volumes of his ability. So it should come as no surprise that his debut novel holds such promise. At a little under 200 pages, Bright’s Passage manages to do a great many things with very little. It has the feel of an old southern fable, a story told around a campfire in the night. There’s something powerful in that simplicity, something confident in its telling. Josh Ritter does well to remind us of the power of the great storytelling, and reminding us again would not be a shame.

~Christopher J. Hoyt is the Assistant Inventory Operations Manager at BookPeople, who spends his time doing everything better than Allan Traylor.

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