The Wake of Forgiveness, the debut novel by Bruce Machart–officially out as of yesterday from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–has a big storyteller narrator who knows how to describe sweeping panoramas and then move seamlessly in for a close-up. We follow an owl for three paragraphs, then zoom down to a man trying to extricate himself from a fence. On the next page, a rider on horseback notices the man by the fence.
The Wake of Forgiveness has a beautiful, symmetrical structure:
- A Winter Harvest: February 1895 (Karel being born)
- Turning the Earth: March 1910 (horse race)
- A Breeding of Nettles; December 1924 (Karel and Sophie and the baby)
- A Sacrament of Animals: March 1910 (Karel and Graciela)
- Meander Scars: May 1898 (the photo of their mother lost)
- The Blind Janus: December 1924 (the baby and the 2 brothers the conflict escalates and the fire)
- Testaments to Seed: March 1910 (Karel and Graciela)
- A Reaping of Smoke and Water: December 1924 (it all comes together)
- A New, Warm Offering: February 1895 (the wet nurse arriving)
But what was most amazing were the sentences–both long:
Alive in Karel’s mind is only a whisper of suspicion, one muted by the astonishing beauty of what he’s seen, and he smiles at the fortune of having borne witness to something so graceful and yet so capable and strong, to a girl turned woman before his eyes, to that woman flashing her white teeth at him, smiling because, for her, as for Karel, there is nothing quite so thrilling as a race run on horseback, nothing filled more with wonder, nothing so able to convince you that you are flesh and blood and alive in the world that offers so few joys other than this running.
The rain needles his good eye, and the sky is dark enough to suggest that the moon has orphaned the heavens.
I heard Bruce read from The Wake of Forgiveness last March in Italy (he was the Sirenland Fellow). On Saturday, he’ll be reading at Cornerstone Books in Salem, MA. The rest of his author tour is online. If you’re in the area, go out and make Bruce welcome. I highly recommend this first novel.
See also this Sunday’s review in the L.A. Times.