I realized a number of things while reading this novel. One is that it’s been too long since a book left me teary eyed. Another is that I’m jealous as hell of what Alan M. Clark has pulled off here. You may know him for the multitude of illustrations and covers he produces at a preternatural pace—for his own books and many others—or maybe you’re familiar with his supernatural fiction. Well, what Clark invites you to embark upon with Fallen Giants of the Points is a work of literary artistry that alternates between hopeful realism and brutal naturalism. (No interior illustrations this time, though he is responsible for the amazing cover image)
It’s hard to know what to expect from Clark, in other words, except for quality. And rest assured, he’s delivered that once again, by the wagon load. In a perfect blend of enviable writing and forward motion, Fallen Giants starts out as a story about an orphaned pair of siblings doing what they can to get by in mid-nineteenth-century New York, but it quickly turns into an adventure that leads the brother and sister (Cedric and Alta Mae) across the country in search of a better life in California. It also becomes more and more a chronicle of America’s racist roots with each mile they cover by wagon train—and, ultimately, a powerful tale of forgiveness.
Cedric and Alta Mae are adults as they reflect back on the events of the novel, through alternating first-person chapters that serve as a collaborative effort on their part to put down a recollection of their early years. This has the effect of deepening our understanding not only of the motivations behind much of the action of the story, but also of the psychological makeup of the two principal characters. A Dickensian nightmare, complete with glimpses of the celebratory strain that marks so much of that writer’s work, Fallen Giants reads like a classic work of American literature. What more incentive can I give for you to read this book? Only tell me and I’ll endorse the notion.
On a purely fun note, anyone who has been enjoying the Matthew Corbett novels of Robert McCammon should relish the idea of fast-forwarding from the eighteenth-century setting of those books to the slightly more recent Big Apple of Clark’s imaginings. Many things changed in the city during that interval, of course, but maybe on the surface more than anything, for many of the same challenges must have existed in the two periods. In the case of both McCammon and Clark, such details are thoroughly and lovingly researched, and wrought.
Read. This. Book.
Posted with the permission of Pete Mesling, author of Jagged Edges & Moving Parts, The Portable Nine, and the forthcoming The Wages of Crime. The review originally appeared on his blog at petemesling.com