The hero of James Lee Burke's recent best-seller Rain Gods, cousin to lawman Billy Bob Holland and a genuine product of the South, both old and new, Hackberry Holland makes his first appearance in this early gem from "America's best novelist" (The Denver Post).
Against the backdrop of growing civil rights turmoil in a sultry border town, the hard-drinking ex-POW attorney yields to the myriad urgings of his wife, his brother, and his so-called friends to make a bid for a congressional seat - and finds himself embroiled in the seamy world of Texas powerbrokers. And when Hack attempts to overturn an old army buddy's conviction, and crosses paths with a beautiful union organizer who speaks to his heart in a way no one else has, he finds both a new love and a new purpose as he breaks free from the shackles of wealth and expectation to bring justice to the underserved.
©2010 James Lee Burke (P)2010 Simon & Schuster
The Publisher's summary reads like a romance novel when this is is classic James Lee Burke: Intellent story telling based on deep introspection and human nature. Dark poetry in hot, steamy Texas in the time when "Negro" was considered polite language and Hispanics were ignored. A preclude to Rain Gods, it explains many character mysteries and painful memories. Will Patton, the narrator, layers language with meaning and tonality like silk over callouses.
Ok, I'm a sucker this author's rendering of Texas border country and its characters. Burke brings an unapologetic empathy to his stories that is rare in this genre. His novels are full of humanity at its worst and best, and somehow he never lets us slide into the dull hum of desensitized overload that can muffle the mind. I love the voice of Patton for these books, a pitch perfect reader for the dignity and imperfection of Holland and his fellows.
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving or riding my bike.
It is pretty difficult to forgive the self-destructive, often self-righteous subject of this powerful character study, at least until you have reached the promising denouement. Burke never soft pedals the negative aspects of Hackberry's alcoholism and self-hatred. What he does do is expose its roots in the Korean War back story, making us relive with Holland a soul destroying history in a visceral and horrifying series of memories. He does, nonetheless, have redeeming qualities even at his lowest points--a love for horses and a compassion for the helpless which he finds inescapable even while he is single-mindedly gunning the engine in his flight to his own annihilation. And a burning hatred for hypocrisy. In fact, it is this last which fuels his descent as his lingering sense of guilt concerning his final "failure" under North Korean torturers makes it impossible for him to wear a mask of respectability in the here and now.
This is not an easy book to read, and different auditors have obviously come away with widely divergent reactions. As for me, while I don't think this is Burke's finest work (that is a very high bar), I was able to engage deeply with Hack even while desperately wanting to slap him up side the head and lock him in his room. Even at his most repugnant, there was something there worth loving, and most of us have experienced that enough times in our lives to be able to relate. In addition, Burke's brilliantly poetic use of landscape and atmosphere is already in evidence in this early work. He also does a nice job of playing powerfully on the themes of hypocrisy and real cowardice which run throughout his later novels. By the last page, I was very satisfied and even moved.
I would not, however, recommend this as a first read in the Burke oeuvre. I would suggest you get to know the later Hackberry and come back to this as very interesting back story.
I love books!
James Lee Burke has become one of my Top 5 favorite authors. This book was the third he ever wrote in 1971. He didn't write another novel for 16 years when he started his Dave Robicheaux series set in the Cajun country of Louisiana. Burke was then in his early 50's. Since then he has been pumping out at least a book a year, mostly Robicheaux novels but others as well including this series involving Hackberry Holland, set in west Texas along the Rio Grande river. Burke didn't write the second book in this series "Rain Gods" for 38 years, yes, he's been writing a long time now and it will be a sad day when he writes his last work. Actor Will Patton has narrated all of Burke's books and they are a great marriage in this regard. In this book, Burke sets the background for Hackberry Holland. As I made my way through the book, it came to me that Burke set the tone for all of his books, the brooding protagonist who hates bigots, hypocrites, people with money who feel that alone gives them privilege and power, etc., and he always takes the side of the underdog while trying to right wrongs, all the while fighting his own demons and struggling to keep a balance in life. If you like James Lee Burke, you'll like this book.
I read all the time, or nearly. I always have, I guess, since I was very young ... and now, getting older, more audio than any other medium.
The combination of James Lee Burke and Will Patton is unbeatable. This is my favorite of Burke's recent books. Billy Bob Holland has grown and added a lot of depth to his character. He inhabits a world that is not black and white, but solidly comprised of shades of gray ... as is the real world.
All of James Lee Burke's characters have history, baggage and flaws. Some are purely evil. Others manage to overcome their flaws to display extraordinary courage.
A great story, beautifully narrated, I loved it from start to finish.
This is a hard book to listen to and Burke walks the knife's edge through the horrors of war both abroad and at home. He puts you into places of terror without ever glorifying the violence. His books always make me feel like I've been some place real and met people I would otherwise never meet. Will Patton's reading brings the story alive.
This is another perfect conjoining of Burke and Patton, vivid in intensity and clarity. The audio-book was made for them. The voices are all there with nothing held back. The language is rough and necessary giving the listener the reality demanded by the characters. Burke and Patton never hold back; they flood our senses to overload making it up to us as the audience to rise to the occasion. Never look for an apology from these two. If you love what you hear, there is much more Burke / Patton out there. Hosanna, life is good.
The title of this review expresses my ambivalence between the quality of the writing and story telling, and my intense dislike of the main character. The four star rating is largely homage to Burke's writing, and his bringing to life the farm worker's struggle for fair treatment. It's also in appreciation of the light he casts on the type of people who succeed in politics, and why.
There are scenes between Hack and Veresa that are drawn with a surgeon's scalpel, and you can almost feel the blood oozing out of your own pores. Similarly, Hack's brother's complaints have the ring of truth and I longed for him to throw Hack out on his drunk butt.
Hack's political career is drawn from the headlines. The lurid details of his drunken escapades can be found in the real reports of politicians' misdeeds, sorry to say.
Hackberry Holland is an abhorrent character. He's a selfish, self-absorbed, egotistical, alcoholic who blames all of his problems on other people. In many ways, he's stereotyped, as are the women with whom he interacts.
He falls into the farm workers struggle not out of principle, but in an alcoholic binge. I would have had more respect for him had he had some principle about it.
Yes, he was a POW in a Chinese camp and his treatment there defies comprehension. Burke describes it extensively, and in great detail. Too much is given over to this, so much so that it felt like mere sensationalism, a disappointment from a writer of Burke's ability.
Will Patton does his usual excellent job narrating the book.
Although overall I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure I'll read any more books featuring Hackberry Holland.
Really enjoyed it. Took a little while to get the "context" of the era story takes place, but it takes nothing from the story. If you like the Patton/ Burke coop you'll love it (particularly if you liked "Rain Gods").
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