Good Writing Makes All the Difference
The Coldest Night: A Novel of Love and War
By Robert Olmstead
Algonquin Books, $23.95
BY RUTH MOOSE
Special to The Pilot
I can't believe I read this book! But I read the first page and couldn't stop. - which means this was a writer who did his job and did it so well I gobbled down every word, thinking, "Lordy, lord, this guy can evermore write."
He hammers down words like a professional roofer: precise, exact, every word fitted in place as perfectly as a mosaic.
Books about love and war do not grace my bedside table. Books about people do. Give me a character whose shoes I can walk in and I'll go ... walking, wading, running. Let him break my heart and I'll cry ... which is what Henry Childs does in "The Coldest Night."
Except it's life that gives Henry the licks with a hard stick.
"The men in Henry Child's family were big, sprawling, raw bones. They farmed and mined and logged and framed out houses, worked the shipyards. From the stories of his grandfather and his old uncles, he learned if any one of them was threatened, they would descent with all stealth and fury, with gun or knife or torch or dynamite."
Ah, and they love just as relentlessly. First it's the Gaylen horse, then it's the girl, Mercy, who "carried her head on a tilt, her mouth like a soft flower."
What's a girl headed to the university in the fall doing involved in a summer romance with a stable hand?
"When I leave, will you remember me?" she asked.
"Do you want me to?"
"Yes," she said.
"He watched her moving figure. She walked away into what seemed an empty world, the silver stripped trees like skeletons. He saw a sweep of light and she was gone."
The world is not kind to star-crossed lovers, and Henry nearly loses his life only to find himself on a bigger battlefield in the rice fields and apple orchards of Korea.
"The fruit trees were leafless and stripped bare of fruit, some were split and shivved and splintered with bullets, their upturned roots exploded from below ground in broken claws."
See what I mean? It's Hemingway - only better. Even the battle scenes exploded in fantastic prose.
Not my kind of book? This IS THE BOOK of our times on the Korean War. And I wouldn't take anything for my reading experience here, which only goes to prove that great writing, moving characters and story, story, story will make me read with the pleasure I had I first fell in love with books.
Ruth Moose is a longtime reviewer for The Pilot and a former creative writing teacher at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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