Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: February Edition

So this month was not as successful as last.  This month I only read one novel, but it was a big one.  I finally got around to indulging in Russell Banks’s ‘Cloudsplitter’, and I must say that this was one of the greatest novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  Since I only got my hands on one book this month, I’m just going to post my full review instead of mere thoughts.

“Years ago, while sitting alone in my room, I finished reading ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ and proclaimed that Russell Banks was the greatest American writer…after one book!  It was a bold and somewhat hasty proclamation, I admit.  But then I read ‘Affliction’, and then ‘Rule of the Bone’ and my mind was made up.  I had planned on reading everything the mad had written and actually purchased all of his novels but time and children and life got in the way and next thing you know I’m reading other books and his are still sitting on the shelf.  This month I decided to pick up ‘Cloudsplitter’, his 1998 piece of historical fiction that centers on the life of John Brown, the famed abolitionist. 

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say this again, but this may possibly be the greatest novel I’ve ever read.

The story is narrated by Owen Brown, John’s son and ‘partner in crime’ so-to-speak.  Detailing their home lives and their involvement in the Underground Railroad, Banks uses Owen as a tool in order to flesh out some very intricate and provoking thoughts and questions about life in general and the allegiance to family and God. 

At nearly eight-hundred pages, ‘Cloudsplitter’ could seem daunting, even to those of us who love a good book.  It scared me for a minute as well, but Banks’ way of storytelling is so profound and so intoxicating that one can’t help but be drawn into every word.  For anyone who has read a Banks novel before, you’ll know what I mean.  He has a poetic way of delivery that makes even the most detailed of proses or the most factual of retelling feel light and airy and easy to digest.  Despite being a historical novel, this is a fictionalized account that uses facts as well as misinterpreted facts as a way to burrow into the mind and get a more intimate portrait of an American family.

What Banks is able to do here is extraordinary.  He takes a subject that alone carries with it a sharp air of controversy, that of slavery, and then uses it as a springboard to dissect the Brown family, exposing the flaws in their thinking as well as the cracks in their unity.  He colors in the life of Owen Brown, our narrator, with such humanism, exposing his own insecurities and his confusion about life, his purpose and the sanctity of his father’s cause.  His own familial slavery is broadened for the reader, so that we can feel the claustrophobic hold that John Brown has on his family, Owen in particular.  As Owen grows up and begins to silently defy his father we can see these layers of the man begin to unfold.  His view of his father, a man cursed with passion and religious ferocity, becomes clouded by his own developmental resistance and his feelings towards the cause at hand begin to waver.  As the story slowly builds to the brutal finale, we are transporter to a world unlike any we’ve experienced.

Russell Banks is a novelist unlike any other.  From page one right on through to the very last, ‘Cloudsplitter’ proves to be one of the most rewarding and thought provoking reads of my life.”

So, I hear that this book is looking at a film adaptation.  I was thinking about it the whole time I was reading, that it was truly ripe for a film adaptation and yet I was afraid of what would happen because there is SO MUCH to cover here.  Apparently (and this is going off of Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt) Martin Scorsese has his hands in here as a producer, with Raoul Peck directing.  I’ve seen nothing that Peck has ever done, so I can’t judge, but the whole time I was reading I was really wanting someone like John Hillcoat to direct this.  He has such a grasp of the Western and really could unearth such gritty realism.  I haven’t seen ‘Lawless’, which was kind of trashed by many, but what he did with both ‘The Proposition’ and ‘The Road’ forever redeems him in my book.  I also really want to see Russell Crowe in the role of John Brown.  I just think it could be such a tour-de-force in the right hands, and he could deliver in such a big way without going too far.  My fear is that they’ll cast some actor known for his hammy theatrics.

What really frightens me is the prospect of this becoming a television movie.  I don’t watch those.  I know that more recent fare has garnered great reviews and great followings, but I just don’t watch them.  That, and this would be so wonderful on the big screen, but apparently they are considering doing this for HBO.

We’ll see what happens.  Until then, I highly recommend you read this ASAP!!!


  1. Haven't read the book, but this could be awesome! Hillcoat and Crowe would be a nice pairing. Owen Brown sounds like a difficult part to cast though.

    1. You should pick it up. It's an excellent read! I'd love to see Crowe land this, but I highly doubt it would happen. Pipe dreams, I guess. Owen would be hard to cast. His a hefty red-head with a bum-arm. I'd love to see an actor will little recognition get the role. I've always thought that Benjamin McKenzie looked like he could be Crowe's son. Maybe the two of them pork it up and land the roles. I'm skeptical as to whether of not McKenzie can really act though.