Everyday Heroes: 3 Novels about the Road to Redemption

When facing life’s biggest challenges, even ordinary folk can become heroes.

Events coordinator Sam Kaas of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington chose this week’s theme; “Three Tales of Messy Redemption and Defiant Perseverance.” He was influenced by the great Northwest writer Brian Doyle (Mink River, The Plover), who says that his books are about “ordinary, strange, flawed people who stare into the face of terrifying darkness, join hands, and march forward.”

City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf, October 13, 2015)

city-on-fire-garth-risk-hallberg-cover“A massive, gritty, and ultimately triumphant novel, City On Fire follows an ensemble cast—artists, writers, journalists, cops, punks, kids—through six tumultuous months in New York City, from New Year’s Eve, 1976 to the devastating, city-wide blackout of July 13 and 14, 1977. Along the way, love is lost, lives are changed and unspeakable tragedy unfolds in a city gripped by paranoia, violence, apathy and greed.

“But when the lights go out, the true nature of New York and its residents—and, really, of all of us—is revealed in all its imperfect, maddening beauty. This is because people from all walks of life are thrown together and given one chance to make their city what they want it—and need it—to be. At once a flawless rendering of New York in the 70s and a completely universal portrait of people in any city anywhere, City on Fire will knock you flat on your face.”

Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land — 30th Anniversary Edition by Robert Michael Pyle (Pharos Editions, October 13, 2015)

wintergreen-rambles-in-a-ravaged-land-robert-michael-pyle-cover“In the late 70s, when Robert Michael Pyle moved to an old farmstead outside of Gray’s Harbor, Washington, he began spending his time in the nearby Willapa Hills—a verdant, beautiful area that had been largely demolished by decades of aggressive logging. It wasn’t just the forest that the timber companies had bled dry: the people of the region, many of whom had worked for the logging operations, were watching their livelihood vanish before their eyes, and realizing suddenly that there was no backup plan.

“But a strange thing happens to any species in the face of widespread destruction. Time and again, they find a way to survive. Pyle’s stunning work—now reissued in a 30th Anniversary Edition by Pharos Editions—is a classic piece of American nature writing, on par with Desert Solitaire and A Sand County Almanac. It’s also an insightful and reverent study of how, in spite of everything, we persevere.”

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison (Algonquin Books, September 8, 2015)

this-is-your-life-harriet-chance!-jonathan-evison-cover“For 78 years, Harriet Chance has played the part. She’s been a devoted wife, a caring mother and a steadfast friend. She’s lived a sensible, comfortable life. But now, with her husband Bernard gone, Harriet is about to embark on a strange and unusually spontaneous journey. When she discovers that, in the months before his death, Bernard had won an Alaskan Cruise at a silent auction, Harriet decides to take it. It’s a gesture meant as a tribute to her late husband, whose ashes she carries, but a letter from an old friend changes that. This suddenly and violently turns her understanding of her marriage, and her life, on its head.

“To make matters worse, she’s now stuck on a boat with her daughter, a recovering addict with whom her relationship has always been complicated. Is Harriet’s entire life to be defined by disappointment? Or can Harriet Chance make peace with her family, her friends and, ultimately, herself? Jonathan Evison pairs a masterfully constructed narrative with a generous pour of his signature wit and humor in this redemptive and genuinely entertaining novel, and gives us a remarkable heroine with no plans to go gently into that good night.”

 

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figured it all out too late. He got his degree in Psychology and realized years later that he wanted to write for a living. He now has 16+ years of digital and print journalism experience and currently entertains an ongoing love affair with the greatest literary classics (he savored every page of “War and Peace” and thought it could’ve been longer, and he will finish Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”). He also loves crossword puzzles, tennis, the outdoors, and working on numerous novels. One of these days, one will get picked up…and when it does, the world will make a little more sense.