Willem van den Oever's Reviews > De Wonderjaren Van Henry Bright

De Wonderjaren Van Henry Bright by Josh Ritter
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's review
Jul 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: in-dutch, world-war-one
Read from July 11 to 15, 2012

A young WWI-veteran, Henry Bright, stands on the edge of an open spot in the middle of the Appalachian woods. In his hands he holds his newborn son. The mother, died while giving birth, lies buried under a nearby tree. The only things Bright has left are a horse and a goat. The rest of his possessions used to be in his cabin, which is currently burning to the ground. The horse turns its head around , opens its mouth and urges Henry to get moving now.

And with that, ‘Bright’s Passage’ becomes increasingly more weird. Because as ordinary as Henry Bright might seem, things have changed during his time in Europe. After the destruction of a church somewhere in France, Bright has started hearing a voice, which first only seemed to come from inside his head, but now usually come from the mouth of a horse he has bought after his return from the war. One might think Henry is suffering from shell-shock, but the voice itself claims to be from an angel, one who used to reside on the roof of the shelled church. The angel, equipped with a plan all of its own, vows to protect Henry now that everything is lost, so long as the man will simply do what the angel instructs him to do.

Bright’s Passage’ is Josh Ritter’s debut novel, and quite an ambiguous at that. Not only is the story filled with talking horses, angels and divine plans that would turn most readers away; but all of the short chapters move back and forth through time as well. Descriptions of horrors in and about the French trenches intertwine with memories of Henry’s childhood and his struggle through the woods after his cabin has been destroyed. With all this and much more, one wonders if this would’ve made for a comfortable start into the field of literature for the young author.

Yet Ritter deserves much credit for keeping balance throughout his narrative, which would not always have been easy. Everything is told with the same feeling for striking sentences and beautiful descriptions. There is a surreal, dreamlike quality to it all, not just the passages that has Bright discussing his son’s fate with a horse with an angel’s voice. Everything just seems a little bit more beautiful when Ritter has to describe it. Even though he needs one heck of a lot of adjectives to make his words come to life, it doesn’t affect the end-result, which is absolutely gorgeous.

Bright’s Passage’ is a wonderful parable, told with much compassion and striking imagery. One can only hope that Josh Ritter will step away from writing songs more often to write books as engaging and endearing as this one, because his debut is a promising one and leaves the reader wanting much more.

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