Book of the Week: The Bully of Order – Brian Hart

Harper has done a nice job in recent years publishing lyrical historical novels that show us the ways in which the American frontier shaped us at least as much as we’d planned to shape it. Whether that frontier is the Northwest, the Southwest or the Plains, what these novels share in common are stories driven by the brutality of frontier life and writing that gives vivid immediacy to the past.  The result is that we come away feeling both the difficulty and the worthiness of life.

Books like The Son, The Kept and the weirdly comical Sister Brothers come immediately to mind. But this landscape isn’t the province of male writers alone; two other favorites are Gil Adamson’s 2008 The Outlander (not to be confused with the current Starz TV series) and Amanda Coplin’s much loved bestseller, The Orchardist. Most recently Smith Henderson, author of my current favorite read, The Fourth of July Creek, said if he were bookseller for a day the novel he’d put into people’s hands is The Bully of Order.

Several of these authors have wholeheartedly endorsed Brian Hart’s The Bully of Order. Those comments are listed below along with a starred Kirkus review and bookseller praise. To get you going, here’s the plot in broad strokes: It’s the story of a lawless turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest logging town and Ellestrom family, whose patriarchs are criminally flawed and lawless brothers who leave their sons a legacy of violence, passion and the desire for redemption.

The story is gorgeously told and I agree with the editor that is a portrait of “the struggle between civilization and lawless chaos, between the best and the worst elements of human nature, as a new social order is born. In this it reflects what is happening in a rapidly changing nation, still young itself.”

And that may be why so many of these stories of particular people, in particular American places and a particular American time feel Shakespearian in scope. They limn the stories of our ancestors and how we became the country we are today.

What draws us into The Bully of Order is the cadence of the writing which is dense but shapely, and anchored by poetic flourishes that ultimately lend the prose its profundity, weight, and grace. And then there are the metaphors, the whole system of figurative language and imagery that, alongside the mesmerizing style, work not so much to stamp the imagination as to stain it. This is a severely atmospheric novel; it haunts not only because of its subject matter–a violent community of laborers on the coast of Washington State at the turn of the last century–but by its means. Hart is a conjurer, and he has conjured a singular, searing world. When you step into this novel you submit to its dream, which is terrifying. You read to the end because you trust the storyteller, you believe in his large gift that leaves you stunned and breathless. A wonderful, unique portrait of a particular landscape I was familiar with but now see anew.”
— Amanda Coplin

“After a relatively quiet debut, Brian Hart has come back with a stunning second novel–a work would qualify as a lifetime achievement for most writers. You do not have to read very far to see that Brian Hart has vaulted squarely into the first rank of American novelists.”
— Philipp Meyer

“Brian Hart’s THE BULLY OF ORDER does what only the best works of fiction can do: it brilliantly imagines those parts of life that history all too often fails to record. This is a thoroughly engrossing story told in mesmerizing prose. I highly recommend it.”
— Kevin Powers

From the great rain-drenched woods of America’s northwest, Hart offers a Hobbesian saga–men and women against nature, and themselves, in struggles solitary and poor, nasty and brutish…Hart’s sense of place-terrain, weather, frontier people-is brilliant…There are dazzling characterizations …In short, declarative sentences building into a dense, deep and illuminating narrative, Hart writes of greed and ambition and of fathers and sons who have ‘gone beyond forgiveness and entered a foreign and evil land.’ Think the brutal realities of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian set among the primeval forests of the Pacific Northwest frontier.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This is a stunning tale of blood and violence set in a logging town in the Pacific Northwest. It’s like an enormous choir singing songs of treachery and mayhem with beautiful, thunderous voices. I was smacked sideways from the first paragraph.  Perfect for fans of Cormac McCarthy.”
— Karen Tallant, The Booksellers At Laurelwood

The Bully of Order (9780062297747) by Brian Hart. $25.99 hardcover. 9/2/14 on sale.

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