Friday, March 31, 2017
Of Ashes and Dust by Marc Graham
"So this is what it is to die."
James Robbins is a man surviving. And dying. And doing both simultaneously as he treks the sojourn of his life. Of Ashes and Dust follows one man's quest to be become every man. Spanning the mid to late 1800s with a predominant layover in the Civil War era, James (also called JD, Jimmy, and Jade depending on the company he keeps) starts his life as the son of a sharecropper making friends with the slaves and falling in love with the girl he wasn't supposed to have. His story flashes in fragments before him as he relives what was, what is, and what could have been. He learned to smoke a pipe, he learned to lie; he saved lives and he took lives - and he learned to love. We begin with him at the end to have a front row view of the sordid conflicts he's faced from fighting the Yankees to the Indians to his own brethren. His life manifests as an integral cog in the expansion of the American West from Arkansas to California, and as he relives the choices he's made - he wasn't always on the right side. Wounded in a railroad explosion that begins his calculated flashback, Jimmy Robbins seeks the purpose of this life - and may he find it.
Marc Graham has crafted a beautiful debut historical fiction novel. His settings are richly drawn evoking an ambitious to desire to be where the novel takes you with all the senses afoot, "The birds cawed at me and I squawked at them, still running, until I reached the woods at the far side of the field." His characters are fleshed out with detail and alive with design, "Where he was beefy and powerfully built, she was gaunt with a sharp, angular face etched with worry lines that her tightly pulled-back hair and severe bun did little to smooth." The conflict, particularly in battle scenes of the Civil War, reminded me of palpable imagery from The Red Badge of Courage where bloodshed and loss gripped the reader both heart and soul. The love scenes were tender and tasteful, and apropos - something lacking in so much of today's fiction.
I particularly enjoyed the protagonist's point of view (James Robbins). He was a man on a mission and you were with him. When he failed, I failed; when he won, I won. The novel flowed in such a way that turning pages didn't feel much like turning pages and more like a film reel unfolding before me. Of Ashes and Dust gives the gift of hope - that one man can change the face of the world in which he lives, that a life does truly matter. I finished the novel in less than 48 hours - I couldn't put it down. I had to know how James Robbins ended where he began. I needed to see the life he lived. And what a life it was.
I happily give this debut novel ☕☕☕☕ and look forward to more work from Graham. He is an author to watch - mark my words.
For more about him, his debut novel, and his whiskey aficionado ideas, visit his website at http://www.marc-graham.com/
You can find his novel for purchase in both hardback and Kindle format on Amazon.com.
Note: I received an ARC digital copy of this novel in exchange for a candid and honest review.