Adam Nelson's Reviews > The Smoke Jumper

The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans
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's review
May 21, 2011

it was amazing

Diana had read The Horse Whisperer and bought Nicholas Evans' succeeding two books on a bookstore excursion that feels like eons ago. Remembering how much she had sung the praises of The Horse Whisperer, I gave Evans' third a go--and was not disappointed in the slightest. I'm currently working through authors on my shelf from Z backwards (having just completed a circuit in the other direction and then reversing it to make my way back to the Es). I try to be highly selective with what I read at a given point. I don't reach for the hard stuff unless I feel up to it. Having just tackled an 840 page book, I wasn't sure what I was thinking in reaching for a 560 page book, but it's not the length, after all, that I should be considering anyway but rather the breadth of the thing. Diana's a Jane Austen fan. I read Persuasion and hated it, couldn't stick with it at all, and thus my reservations about this one would be that I'd find Evans similarly impenetrable and over my head. Austen and her ilk make me feel like an idiot. Evans, however, couldn't have been more different. I know, of course, there is no basis for comparison between Victorian literature and modern fiction, but I thought perhaps there would be crossover elements uniquely tailored to Diana and her book club's tastes, and I don't like books that require me to diagram a sentence in order to enjoy them. Evans doesn't. Yes, his fiction is rich and textured, but God bless him, he's an everyman with a soul. I haven't read The Horse Whisperer, but Redford must have got it right because the heroism and stalwartness of his male characters and the hardy steel of his females are on display just as much here as in the film. This is romance in a pure sense. Mild spoilers may await, so beware.

He layers his characters with integrity and heart, even in their weakest moments, such as the periods of self-pity experienced by Ed after his fall, and especially as Julia and Connor battle the urge within to requite their forbidden love. The greatest suspense often comes from whether or not characters are going to do the right thing, and what lifts Evans' romance above the pornographic swill commonly categorized as such is that they often do, although there are prices to pay and sacrifices to make that may cost them their lives. As a Christian, I can see these people being called to account for their actions and being commended for them. THAT is romantic to me. Yes, the gratification comes, and boy is it ever delayed! But it's delayed for all the right reasons, and by the time you reach it, you're so swept up in the mixture of tragedy and suspense it's taken to get there that Evans can pretty much do whatever he wants with you. His book is obviously well-researched in the matters of smoke jumping, mountain fires, parachutes, photojournalism, and recent African history and political, but he doesn't show it off, like going into some tangential chapter to explain what all this stuff is. It's inter-woven as needed in the story but it never subverts it so that never once do we lose track of the characters we have almost immediately fallen in love with. There's a bit of Ed, Connor, and Julia in all of us at different points in our lives, and our hearts bleed and break for them. I'd venture to say there's a bit of Skye in us, too, and the way the book finds redemption for her and Julia's experience with her will no doubt bring tears to your eyes. Read this and then share it with the one you love. Make him or her read it, too, something I plan on doing with Diana. And then hit the hay and thank God you've made it safely together.

One more thing: There are two sex scenes in this book, and the first one almost ruined my perfect score, but the second one purposely redeems it. I don't like sex scenes were people are just throwing the f-word at each other, not because I'm a prude but because it is seriously unromantic. Well, it was intended to be a little off-putting, and I commend Evans for having the confidence in himself to make it right by the end.
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