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
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.
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 James Lee Burke - but I must say this was probably my least favorite book. His second book with this charater is better, and you don't need to read this one to enjoy the next. Skip it -
Don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Trip's cool though. Use Audible to make gym-training sane... And rip my imagination.
I have been a James Lee Burke fanboy… just look at my other reviews. I've called him a poet and looked forward to each new Dave Robicheaux chapter at an epic American cultural turning point. Mark Hammer is one of the greatest Audible voices of all time. So I am overwhelmed with disappointment in Hackberry Holland asa stereotypical ideologue's over-written lead character.
When writers present ideas, they can become great, when they represent ideas, they are propagandists. Maybe I should have listened to all of this polemic filled with hateful white south westerners and saintly people of color.I couldn't since quickly it seemed as if he was again visiting a stereotypical place where there was no grey, no nuance, no other side but the whiny argument that Burke presents. As the son of a union leader, I understand the struggle and its virtues. I also understand its excesses, contradictions, and frustrations.
An artist asks questions, a partisan answers them. The world of Robicheaux is riddled with questions… Hackenberry is about unambiguous answers. Robichieux's a question mark, Hackenberry an exclamation point.
Burke is singing to the choir. How disappointing. Once upon a time a young writer turned in an assignment to his editor. She read it, looked up and said, 'Ted, you're really enraged by this issue aren't you?" "YES!" he retorted.
She slid the article back across her desk, "It shows. Rewrite it."
Mr. Burke, it shows.
Burke is a well above average talented writer, and this is interesting for its glimpse at the young novelist figuring it out. There are some nice passages, and you get that there's really something at stake: the tough-guy protagonist has some real decisions to make about where his allegiance lies and how much he can tolerate in the face of deep corruption. I can't help reading it as Burke himself trying out different aesthetics for his own work.
That said, this doesn't age all that well. The protagonist's narcissism gets old. The reconciliation of an early 1970s counter-culture sensibility with 1950s noir shows its seams (and feels forced). The maybe-interesting-for-her-day love interest gets reduced too quickly to arm candy after a promising beginning. And the climax resolves less than I'd like.
I enjoyed parts of it a good bit as a flashback to an earlier time, but it didn't hold up for me through the end, and I found myself dragging for the last quarter.
A Korean war vet, lawyer, and new Democratic candidate for Congress from Austin TX in the '70s, the protagonist "Hack" is bitter, estranged from his wife, brother, others, self. Though he holds himself to a high standard, he also questions his own worth just a little less than he discounts the motives of those around him. He has the attractive sensibilities of a hippie (open-minded and anti-bigotry) together with the appetites of a good ol' boy (drinking, driving fast, and whoring). His deep secret - which forms the spine of the narrative - is sufficiently important and well presented. The reading by Will Patton is outstanding, a great pleasure with perfectly fitting voices. The story is just a little less than compelling, too much of a great guy with a deep soul...who is righteous and drinks way too much.
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I have listened to some books in each of James Lee Burke's story lines. His wonderful descriptions and Will Patton's narration are music to my ears.
However, in spite of the writing talent, I found this book depressing. If you have lived with the return of a haunted, wounded veteran that finds himself not wanting to be what everyone else expects, turns to alcohol, and becomes contrary on all fronts, you will recognize the descent of Holland. Fortunately Burke wraps this up with some optimism.
I don't typically listen to a book twice, but I would consider it with this one because the story is rich and the characters are deep.
I appreciate Burke's old school ethic exhibited through the conviction of his protagonists.
Will Patton is Hack Holland. His interpretation of the character is spot on perfect.
"Coming to a theater near you . . . a Lone Star political masterpiece for the ages!"
Will Patton's delivery caresses the words.
James Lee Burke always delivers - consistent pain and suffering with a solid final delivery.
First chapter always sinks the hook.
his characters play the team ideal, everyone contributes.
You have to read every one of his books....you really do.
I love James Lee Burke and I love Will Patton, but the alcoholism and the brutality in the book is hard for me. the part about the POW camp gave me nightmares and I had to stop listening.
I realize now, that this book was written a long time ago and I could really see how aged the book was.
Will Patton's performance was the best.
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