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The Wake of Forgiveness

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  833 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews

One moonless night in February 1895, a young landowner in Texas cow country loses his wife in childbirth. In the lonely years that follow, his new son, his fourth, grows to become a skillful, aggressive jockey and his father, with equal fervor, stakes his land and fortunes on his success. In 1910, father and son, distant yet strangely joined in this venture, race to a poin

Hardcover, 309 pages
Published October 21st 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2010)
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Mockingjay by Suzanne CollinsSpirit Bound by Richelle MeadClockwork Angel by Cassandra ClareLast Sacrifice by Richelle MeadRoom by Emma Donoghue
Best Books of 2010
474th out of 1,343 books — 2,430 voters
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyLonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWittAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyTrue Grit by Charles Portis
Literary Westerns
94th out of 127 books — 225 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jul 18, 2014 Amanda rated it really liked it
Shelves: kick-ass, blog
This was an impulse buy at Barnes and Noble. I ignored the book at first in favor of looking at the books around it, but then I caught the words “Tim O’Brien” during a cursory glance at a book blurb on the cover. One of my rules in life is to pick up anything with Tim O’Brien’s name on it and buy it immediately, no questions asked. To date, this rule has served me well and The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart is no exception.

Set in Texas at the dawn of the 20th century, the novel focuses on
Rather than repeat the much deserved accolades about how beautifully this book is crafted and written, I'll add that it seems to me that all the invoking of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy misses the heart of this story, which strikes me as deeply feminine and feminist.

It's a traditionally male story about a family of brothers in the American west, but with a twist: everything that goes right or wrong has ultimately to do with women, mostly with a woman not getting her due or being given a
Sep 30, 2012 Lou rated it it was amazing
A sweeping epic saga across 30 years of a family, brothers and a father and their deceased mother.
Wonderfully layered out in some of the most eloquent words strung together in a sentence.

This guy can really write, literally unheard of by the reading population. A must read this novel deserves immediate attention by the populace, the author has crafted a story that was such a joy to read captivating, deep sense of meaning and place.
I am thinking along the lines of Train Dreams by Denis Johnson an
Juliana Philippa
Beautifully stark and well-written prose, but a difficult story that left me somewhat unfulfilled (4 stars)

This book took me much longer to read than most books, and I cannot quite put my finger on why. What I do know is that Machart is a very talented writer whose prose often read like stark and lyrical poetry and sometimes reach the quality of genius. Sounds dramatic, I know, but as a writer myself I was impressed - and envious - of his talent with the written word.

Machart's characters are com
David Carr
Aug 07, 2011 David Carr rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-west
Against expectations, I read this book as rapidly as I could, following its inevitable word cadences, complex and exquisitely honed. On nearly every page I wanted to rush forward, but the structure and evolution of each crafted sentence kept me from it and taught me a reader's patience. In this way it is close to the first book of Cormac McCarthy's brilliant trilogy, so strong and compulsive. But in its own way, this book is more furious, darkened and storm-driven by a human hardness even ...more
Jul 23, 2011 Trish rated it really liked it
The book is a western in the broadest sense. It is really literature. The language is lush, exquisite, and unforgettable. The work is the debut (!) novel of a young man, but reads as if it were written by a much older man. If I tell you the book is black…dark like I have rarely read, you may be reluctant to dip your head in. But the title has the word forgiveness in it, and it is so. Forgiveness that falls like drops of rain on a parched and cracked soil. It is so unexpected, I didn’t trust it a ...more
Nov 14, 2012 Carol rated it really liked it
Recommended to Carol by: Paul, Trish & Shout N Share BEA
Shelves: debut
There’s a lot of spit, hawking, and swilling going on in Bruce Machart’s debut novel The Wake of Forgiveness. Machart has been compared to Cormac McCarthy, Faulkner, and Hemingway in the same breath and the book has won several awards. It’s been described as a man’s book, down right gritty, but this woman liked it just fine.
It’s a family story without a lot of direct female presence but the ramifications of a woman’s role are key to the story. The story begins in 1895 in what the author thought
Oct 24, 2010 Felice rated it really liked it
What do you get when you mix Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Shakespearean tragedy and an exceptional cover with homesteaders? Wait, wait, wait we'll be adding in strong, evocative writing too. No need to guess my friend. It's The Wake of Forgiveness by Bruce Machart.

Take a look at that cover. Isn't it beautiful? It's smart too. Everyone loves a horse. It is not a gender specific symbol. The photo is powerful so the consumer/reader can expect drama but it isn't overwhelmingly masculine or th
Aug 31, 2010 Richard rated it it was amazing
"This is the bloodlust of brothers, the vengeful rage of the father, all of it born out and somehow flawless in its wickedness, like some depraved reenactment of Genesis staged solely for the amusement of reprobates." -The Wake of Forgiveness

Every once in a great while you come across a book that does all the things you want a book to do. Prose so sumptuous you hold your breath through whole sections because breathing - even breathing - would disrupt the amazing way a thought is unfolding. A pl
May 08, 2010 Kristin rated it it was amazing
"Ain't a woman ever been paid enough for all that gets taken from her..."
This harsh, violent portrayal of farm life in rural 1910 Texas is an intense read and definitely not for the faint of heart. Achingly desolate, much like the landscape, the story of the Skala family begins with a tragedy and ends with a brother's redemption. The Wake of Forgiveness, a debut novel by Bruce Machart will leave you feeling hopeful, an emotion nonexistent throughout this gripping drama.
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 22, 2011 switterbug (Betsey) rated it it was amazing
Family bonds, particularly between fathers and sons, and mothers and sons, are explored with great sorrow and depth in this elegiac and epic tale of the Skala family, hard-working Czech farmers in Lavaca County. In the fertile flat lands of South Texas, in the fictional town of Dalton, 1895, Karel Skala is the fourth son born to Vaclav and Klara, and the one that results in Klara's death. Vaclav's pain shuts him down, and he forsakes holding his son.

Instead, Vaclav treats Karel and his brothers
Jan 10, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it
Recommended to Paul by: Amazon Books of the Year 2010
The novel begins with the birth, in 1895, of the main character, Karel Skala, in Lavaca County, Texas – a birth that results in his mother’s death. Karel is the youngest of four brothers whose father, Vaclav, is a hard-scrabble rancher. The family has now been deprived of the nurturing presence of the mother and all the men (the father included) lay the blame on Karel. It is the very absence of important female characters that makes this novel so interesting. The men lie, cheat, steal, use each ...more
Amy L. Campbell
Aug 07, 2010 Amy L. Campbell rated it did not like it
Note: This is a review of an Advance Reading Copy, changes may be made to the final version.

There is some good solid writing in this. Lots and lots of good solid writing. In fact, there is so much solid writing that I was overwhelmed by it. There were moments when I was begging for plain, simple sentences and the only time I got it was in dialog. The rest of the time I was beaten over the head with wordy sentences stretching an average of 3 lines. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of flowery languag
Full disclosure: I received an advanced copy of The Wake of Forgiveness through B&N's First Look book club.

I absolutely loved Bruce Machart's The Wake of Forgiveness. It's not a book I would have normally picked up off the shelf or taken home from the store, as at first glance it seems like it would just be a western and they just aren't my thing normally, but I'm so very glad that I got the opportunity to read it. Bruce's writing is wonderfully descriptive and he is fantastic at creating mo
Dec 12, 2010 Vheissu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
Fire was one of so many things that could render a man helpless, and now, as Karel reached the corral fence and circled around to the gate, his brothers' eyes unblinking and tepid and fixed on him, he reckoned that family was another. A man couldn't any more choose which one he was born into than he could will it to stay together when so many things abraded and raveled the fibers that were meant to keep it bound. Try to hold it all together with force, and with a harness and a hard hand the way
David Abrams
The Wake of Forgiveness, the rich, evocative debut novel by Bruce Machart, doesn’t amble gently into a prolonged introduction of place and characters, but begins bang-on in the middle of a peak scene: a messy, fatal childbirth in the winter of 1895:

The blood had come hard from her, so much of it that, when Vaclav Skala awoke in wet bed linens to find her curled up against him on her side, moaning and glazed with sweat, rosary beads twisted around her clenched fingers, he smiled at the thought th
Nov 04, 2010 McKenzie rated it liked it
My thoughts on this book are a little conflicted. Machart's writing style is beautiful at times, overbearing at others, and occasionally impossible to follow (I wondered if he ever learned about varying the length of his sentences in elementary school). The subjects he is grappling with in The Wake of Forgiveness are gripping (though it took me about 100 pages to really get into the novel), but his method of solving the problems he's created for his vivid characters seems superficial to me ...more
Sep 20, 2010 Donna rated it really liked it
“The Wake of Forgiveness” is a complex story of several families living in Lacava County, TX, somewhere around 1900. Through the eyes of the author, we are able to glimpse the hard life endured on the farms, and the struggle to establish business and industry. But more than that, it is the story of a father and his four sons; a story filled with anger, fighting, abuse, and maybe even some love. The two main families are the Skala’s and the Villasenor’s. The main character, Karel Skala, is the ...more
Oct 17, 2010 Al rated it liked it
There was a lot to like about this book. It's a hard-nosed tale of a boy's youth in early 20th century Texas. Skipping back and forth among three traumatic times of his life -- events at his birth, age fifteen, and age twenty-four, the story illuminates his family and his life. The good part is that the story is gripping, and Mr. Machlen is capable of moving it along quite smartly. The bad news is that there are times when the prose bogs down in a welter of obscure clauses; one suspects Mr. ...more
Oct 19, 2010 Jill rated it really liked it
As the author notes, this book has “an old, even timeless, biblical kind of feel. These are, after all, kind of Old Testament struggles at work. Sons and mothers. Brothers and brothers. Fathers and sons.” These people are as mean as the land the try to tame. In some ways it was reminiscent of "Under the Unbroken Sky" by Shandi Mitchell. But that book, written by a woman, focused more on the women and children of the struggling immigrants, and was written in a softer focus. Machart’s book has ...more
Jared Della Rocca
Jul 21, 2011 Jared Della Rocca rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookmarks, 2011
One of the most beautiful books I've ever read! Machart has a masterpiece on his hand, vividly painting human emotion atop a Texas-in-the-early-1900s background. You are initially drawn in through the heart-rending loss of a mother, and then flash back and forth through the youngest son's life as he copes with a harsh father, the loss of a relationship with his brothers, and his own hard shell. But as tough as that shell is, you can still peer through the cracks to the heart beating underneath, ...more
Apr 07, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
Machart is a master at taking you out of yourself and making his imagined world more real than your own. I flat out loved this novel. A brutal family saga played out in rural Texas at the turn of the last century, The Wake of Forgiveness delivers on both character development and storyline. But more than anything Machart's writing is mesmerizing. I found myself frequently reading whole paragraphs just to hear the language again in my head. "The owl dips a wing and veers west. She clears the ...more
Jun 03, 2012 Katie rated it liked it
Historic and bucolic prose is evocative but I am skeptical of the depth of the farm boy protagonist's insightful mind. Where did he learn to think like that if working the fields all day and lacking the love and even touch of his father. It can't all be owed to the imagination created by early loss. The descriptions of a women's curving hips narrowing to a slender waist are overdone and overused for every female his eyes have the pleasure of falling upon. The family drama is heartfelt, however, ...more
Jul 12, 2016 Cody rated it really liked it
A brutal tale written in the mold of Cormac McCarthy, although with a style that is a little more approachable. Somewhat strange in its uniqueness, "Wake of Forgiveness" is compelling straight from the get go. Not for the faint of heart, but an excellent book in its own right. I will certainly be on the lookout for future works from Mr. Machart.
May 20, 2011 Diana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011-reads
i don't typically find much value in prose loaded with metaphors and similes but for some reason it worked.

if you're a Kent Haruf fan, you'll love this. if you've never read Haruf, read this book anyway (and read Haruf).
Sep 19, 2010 thewanderingjew rated it it was amazing
This book is so well written that the words leap from the page and make you an active participant in the story, rather than a voyeur. Every page makes you think more deeply about each of the characters. They almost invite themselves to be examined.
The story begins in the late 1800's and continues over a span of 29 years. The lawlessness, cruelty and hardship, that the author describes is palpable and his prose so powerful that it seemed to reach out and suck me into it, making me aware of the h
Sep 22, 2010 Leslie rated it really liked it
Literary fiction fans will love Bruce Machart’s debut novel The Wake Of Forgiveness. The book is beautifully written with poetic prose and vivid, descriptive passages of the land, the people and the events in their lives. Set in early 20th century rural Texas, the novel centers around Karel Skala as he struggles to find the purpose in his life and to understand his connections with the land and his family.

The story begins with Karel’s birth and at the same time the death of his mother, Klara. Hi
Oct 08, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it
Recommended to Karen by: Barnes and Noble
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 11, 2013 Susie rated it really liked it
"Clouds had come chasing the previous day's stray overnight, and their undersides blushed as the topmost arc of the sun came beaming like some proud suitor over the distant trees. From the water oaks and pines along the northern fork of the creek, a mockingbird called out the first of the day's admonishments. With the gate latched behind him, Karel stood beside the horse and put a foot in the stirrup as he took hold of the pommel and swung himself astride the animal, who sidestepped, tossing her ...more
Oct 11, 2010 Carol rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010, first-reads
I am sorry that there are no half stars on this rating system; I believe that this book should be a 3.5 in my opinion.
I just found out that this is Bruce Machart’s first novel. I think that words are his craft. The opening pages of the novel were beautifully written, I would not change anything, not one word. But there are some recommendations that I want to make as a reader. First of all, I do not like switching back and forth in time. One time or two times are easy to deal with but this book
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BRUCE MACHART's fiction has appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, Story, One-Story, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Stories of the American West. A graduate of the MFA program at Ohio State University, he currently lives and teaches in Houston.
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“I don't reckon misery loves any damn thing at all.” 12 likes
“You could rub a dry turd with a whole can of linseed oil, after all, and all you'd end up with was mess of shiny shit.” 4 likes
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