Perry Whitford's Reviews > Cloudsplitter

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
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's review
Jun 04, 2014

really liked it
Read from February 01 to 06, 2008 — I own a copy , read count: 1

I had read one of Bank's novels before this ('Rule of the Bone') but it hardly prepared me for the epic scope of this masterwork. Forget Cloudsplitter, this is more a Shelfsplitter at near a thousand pages, but its well worth immersing yourself in by any estimation.

John Brown is a household name in US of A but not so much here in Britain. He was the most vociferous white voice during the struggle for the emancipation of slaves in 19th century America, but despite being a devout Christian he was also in effect a proto-terrorist, who believed in the use of force to make his point.

The story is a first person narration by one of his son's, Owen, who has an equivocal and complicated relationship with his father. Early in the story Owen presents his heroic father as something of a laughable figure, tricked by a common hypnotist, and that incident stuck with me throughout, whether rightly or wrongly.

Although I think Owen was an unreliable narrator, I still left the book with mixed feelings about Brown, who is rightly an American hero. He was also patriarchal with a near-Noah type intensity - maybe that also fostered mixed feelings in me, I never liked Noah - but it was his certainty of the wrongness of racial bigotry that makes him a heroic figure, and that is never in question in this portrayal.

Its very large, a sure attempt at writing the Great American Novel, but its a whopping success as well. Not just the man, but the time and place are also vividly evoked.
Epic stuff.

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