Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Christopher Buehlman's Debut Novel -- "Those Across the River"

Since taking my first tentative steps on this authorial sojourn five years ago, many things have happened because of and for and to me that I never foresaw. Some of them were more edifying than others, but I'm unaware of any of life's avenues where that's not true. Thankfully, and likely luckily, far less than most of them have proven to be discouraging. Many of them have turned out to be pleasant surprises.

One of those surprises was Amazon's inviting me to be a "Vine Voice" reviewer a few months ago. I was pleased to accept that invitation, since no author is any better a writer than he or she is a reader. I find it stimulating to read new work by skilled authors slightly less than famous enough to ride perennially atop the common bestseller lists -- especially since that's a category into which I fit nicely, too. I find it satisfying to do my part, in some small way, to bring attention to new or unheralded authors whose "Q Score" hasn't yet gone stratospheric.

Christopher Buehlman is such an author. I first encountered him, and his new horror novel, "Those Across the River," buried deep in a long list Amazon e-mailed me from which to choose the subject of my next Vine review. Based on his publisher's brief description of the book, I took a chance on it. I'm glad I did, and if you enjoy a scary book steeped in Southern Gothic tradition, you'll do yourself a favor by checking it out. Buehlman's web site is http://www.christopherbuehlman.com. His book came out today.

For the record, I've never met Buehlman. He's not a friend of mine, and I'm not shilling for him. If he walked up to me and said hello, I'd have no clue who he was. But his novel deserves notice, which is why I've taken the liberty of reproducing my Vine review of it below.

Besides, no one truly enjoys an author blog that's nothing but incessant self-promotion. I know I don't, and I assume you don't, either.

My review follows. Happy reading, and thank for your kind time and interest.

An Impressive Debut  (4 out of 5 Stars)

The roots of Christopher Buehlman's novel, "Those Across the River," are tangled inextricably in the classic Southern Gothic literary tradition. Emblematic of the best of the genre, Buehlman's writing is as elegant as it is powerful. Through deft choices of language, idiom, place and pace, he conveys well the cadence of life in the American South at a time the country teetered between the first and second World Wars, the Great Depression raged with seeming immortality, and the American Civil War remained a deep, haunting wound far from healed in formerly Confederate states.

Retreating from Chicago and the professional and personal ruin wrought by their indiscreet adultery, Frank and Eudora alight in Whitbrow, a tiny Georgia town, to take possession of a house willed Frank by his recently deceased aunt. Rejecting his aunt's warning not to live in her bequest but instead to sell it immediately, Frank and Eudora begin settling in the quaint yellow house, which is separated by a small river and a large forest from his family's ancestral family plantation. Frank is descended from a notorious Confederate officer who evaded Union bullets only to die brutally at the hands of his own slaves, on his own plantation. In an attempt to right his shattered life both in the aftermath of Chicago, and of his ghastly experiences as a doughboy fighting in bloody French trenches, Frank comes to Whitbrow to explore the remnants of the estate with an eye to writing a definitive history of the plantation and the infamous man who owned it. Yet despite the decades that have passed since the plantation's demise, it's not uninhabited. To the contrary, it has been waiting patiently for Frank's arrival, as have its handful of infernal denizens who smelled Frank and Eudora coming long before they fled Chicago.

Fans of Southern Gothic tales will love "Those Across the River," as will admirers of shrewd writing. Buehlman's storytelling is captivating, and unsettling. It's a very good book.

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