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Bright's Passage: A Novel Hardcover – June 28, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter from Author Josh Ritter

© Marcelo Biglia
The central premise of Bright’s Passage is that an angel has followed young Henry Bright home from the senseless carnage of the First World War. The book follows Bright during three significant periods in his life, braiding the scenes together finally to portray a young man attempting to meet the greatest challenge of his life: returning home. The angel, perhaps a capricious refugee from the painted ceiling of a shelled French church, perhaps the dream-like manifestation of Henry Bright’s own shell-shocked mind, nevertheless takes up residence in Henry’s horse, and it is through their time with one another and the journey they take together that Bright attempts to find peace, not simply for himself, but if the angel is correct, for the entire world.

War always brims with bloody inscrutability, but the First World War mated the ferocious absurdity of human nature with unprecedented leaps of technological capability to birth a new and monstrous kind of world-striding warfare that for the first time in history seemed capable of wiping away whole civilizations. It was this conflict--the seeming ability of man to spin the world and yet just as easily be spun by it--that drew me to the time period surrounding the First World War, and that gave me my first glimpse of Henry Bright, a man caught up in a whirlwind he is unable to understand or control.

Though continuously pestered by the angel, upon returning home to West Virginia Henry attempts to put the abattoir of his time in France behind him by marrying his childhood friend Rachel and having a baby with her. When Rachel dies in childbirth however, Henry finds himself beset by new and present vagaries even as he attempts to understand the ones he has already come through. A wildfire, Rachel’s vengeful family, and his struggle to protect his newborn son from both now drive Henry Bright, his horse, his goat and his tiny infant into the wilderness in a desperate attempt to finally find peace.

Ultimately, Bright’s Passage is about a man who has come home from war only to suspect that perhaps he has not yet returned from it.


Praise for Bright’s Passage
Bright’s Passage shines with a compressed lyricism that recalls Ray Bradbury in his prime…This is the work of a gifted novelist…” – Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review
“[An] eloquent and intensely moving historical novel . . . a work of masterful, stunning prose.”—
“Displays Ritter’s abundant lyrical gifts…Rich in metaphor and surprising moments of humor… A dark parable in the southern Gothic tradition of Cormac McCarthy.” The Boston Globe
“This debut novel from musician Josh Ritter…is intensely beautiful, tragic and also funny…[The novel] expands as it moves forward, complicating relationships, deepening our concern for Bright and blurring the lines between good and bad….Ritter knows how to build a rich, beautiful story with shape: Bright’s Passage has a powerful end.”  - Los Angeles Times
“A charming, sweet and highly readable novel . . . [Ritter’s] imagery is bold, tantalizing.”—Associated Press
“Propelled by short chapters that read like powerful vignettes, all of which lead to a final confrontation as haunting as any ballad Ritter could have written.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The novel is written in Ritter's unique voice — that of a troubadour and soothsaying songwriter, and it is as pleasing to read as his music is to hear.” 

“Josh Ritter is already one of the country’s most accomplished songwriters. Based on the heartbreaking, luminous Bright’s Passage, he may become one of our most accomplished novelists as well.”—Dennis Lehane
“Ritter renders Bright’s journey in beautiful, haunting style…Ritter’s ability to evoke a bygone era or a stunning image with a handful of words is as strong as it is in the best of his songs. He’s taken great care to build a fully realized world on the cusp of modernity, and he’s filled it with enigmas worth pondering.” The Onion / AV Club
“The story unfolds with leisurely ease, told in lofty, even tones. Ritter has a knack for details…He's an assured stylist as well…A tender, touching novel about a survivor of both World War I and a nasty family conflict.” Kirkus Reviews
“An adventure story with the penetrating emotional colors of a fable; a mythlike survival quest with the convincing texture of a movie; a good read that stays in the memory.”—Robert Pinsky
“Ritter’s got perfect pitch in his scenes of Appalachia, getting just right the hardscrabble descriptions, sights and sounds that convince us to let go as dubious readers and fully enter the fictional dream of the novel. He can build suspense too, pulling the trick off through chapters that shift in time and place. That said, his remarkable rendering of the trench warfare in World War I convinced me of his talents. …Add Josh Ritter to the list of novelists we’ll take seriously as his next books come…no matter his day job.”
“A dark, enchanting parable that reads as both a warning and a reassurance, Bright’s Passage has echoes of voices as disparate as Ron Rash, Richard Bausch, and Neil Gaiman. But, as always, Josh Ritter’s haunting, graceful work is his own. His gifts are of singular beauty, and the world of American art is fortunate to have been blessed with his talent.”—Michael Koryta, author of So Cold the River and The Cypress House
“A perfect marriage of the miraculous and the mundane, Bright’s Passage is itself something of a miracle. Combining the pull of a big ballad and the intimacy of a whispered monologue, it satisfies on every level: from its deceptively casual style and unexpected coinages to its astute psychology and emotional power. I imagine this is precisely the book every fan of Ritter’s music wanted, but Bright’s Passage is far more than that.”—Wesley Stace, author of Misfortune and Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer
“In his debut novel Josh Ritter displays the same love of language and historical detail, the same irresistible combination of wit and earnestness, that make him such a brilliant songwriter. He’s created a genuine work of literature.”—Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
“After earning his place as one of the most gifted songwriters of our time, Josh Ritter goes off and writes a terrific novel. Set in post–World War I Appalachia, Bright’s Passage charts the journey of a young, lost soldier, home from the war but in a sense still there. This is one of the finest first novels to come our way in a long time.”—Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble
“Ritter evokes war, violence and the fearful and numb responses to trauma, squaring them up in a hopeful, humble revelation.”Publishers Weekly
“Captures each scene with vivid details and sincere emotions. [An] expressive and darkly humorous tale…” Library Journal
“Ritter’s songs sometimes feel like full-blooded fables and folk tales, and his novel has a similar vision, the vision of a disturbing and beautiful dream…Reluctant readers might worry that a songwriter might not be able to sustain a longer narrative, but Steve Earle and Josh Ritter have, in their very different ways, written haunting ballads that sing off the page.” Poets & Writers Online


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; First Edition edition (June 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069505
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069507
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Henry Bright talks to his horse. That wouldn't be so unusual, except that his horse is the one who started the conversation. Or so Henry believes. He's convinced he brought an angel back with him from the war in France, and now it's guiding his life and communicating through his horse. Now, that might not sound so bad if you believe in angels, but this one is directing Henry to do things that are dangerous and destructive. He kidnaps a girl, has a child with her, and after she dies, he sets a fire that quickly spreads across West Virginia. Blame it on the horse. Now Henry is on the run, and "the Colonel" is hot on his trail, determined to avenge the kidnapping and death of his daughter. (The foregoing may sound like spoilers, but have no fear. These things are all presented at the start of the book.)

The chapters mostly alternate between Henry's experiences as a World War I soldier and his current journey as he flees the fire with his infant son, with a few chapters of backstory about Henry's boyhood. The horrors he experienced in the war go a long way toward explaining his unusual behaviors after returning to civilian life.

Josh Ritter has the gift of story. His writing really captivated me and drew me into Henry Bright's world. There's a confidence in Ritter's style that gives it a literary quality surpassing pop fiction. I especially appreciated the author's skill as a "noticer." He's a man who really sees, and he knows all the right things to tell you so you can see it too, without getting bogged down in detail.

This is a first novel, so there are faltering steps, self-conscious moments, and little hiccups in the plot that distracted me at times and left me wanting more information.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Tracy F. VINE VOICE on July 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm likely one of the rare people who do not pay attention to Josh Ritter's songwriting and albums. I know he's often compared to Bruce Springsteen, but the songs I have listened to didn't wow me. I think it's the style, I'm a die-hard alternative/indy rock fan. When I saw the description for his first book, I was mesmerized, I love plots involving single fathers, so I expected to love "Bright's Passage" and honestly I liked it but didn't love it.

Henry Bright's been through the war and returned home with an angel in tow. That angel many times poses as Henry's horse making me wonder what the author was on when writing the book because talking animals does tend to be get a little wacky. In this case, Henry's horse/angel told him to marry the "Colonel's" daughter, stealing her away which doesn't thrill the Colonel one bit. When the daughter dies during childbirth, Henry now has a son to raise, so his angel/horse tells him to burn down the house and flee with his son because it's the only way to save the "Future King of Heaven." Henry does that and that starts a forest fire that affects many lives.

As Henry sets off with his son and the goat that is providing milk for the infant, the Colonel and his sons set off in pursuit. They seek revenge for stealing their daughter/sister away.

The story flashes between the present and Henry's experiences in the war. It took me a while to get into the flow of the book. Once I did, I found myself reading non-stop to find out if Henry would save his son or not. The book does have a fluidity that demonstrates the author's skill with writing, but I almost wish the story had been longer so that some characters could have been more fleshed out. It's not a bad book by any means, but it's not one I'd want to read over and over again.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Leftcoastpunk on July 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished reading the novel a few days ago and like many great novels I've read as an English major, the story has almost been etched in my mind.

Although this novel probably won't be considered one of the "most important" works in American literature, this novel certainly is one of the best "first" novels I've read in quite a while.

Josh Ritter, as in his songs, certainly has a way with words and storytelling in his first novel. Josh Ritter's prose is deceptively simple yet masterful, giving glorious, exquisite and grisly details of scenes whether set in the soggy and war torn landscapes of WWI or in the harsh yet beautiful lands of a rural America.

Henry Bright is a character that will most likely stand out for most readers. As I read on I found myself wanting to know more and more of this character. Josh RItter gives you bits and pieces of Henry Bright and at the same time remains at an equitable distance from Henry Bright.

Like Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald, Josh Ritter leads the reader to doors leading up to questions. However, instead of giving the reader an answer or answers, he leaves them entirely open to the reader to decipher for themselves.

I give this novel 5 stars because, as a first novel from an already outstanding musician, it clearly is quite an accomplishment.

I recommend this book and it is worth reading, especially if you're a fan of Josh Ritter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William Merrill TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first novel from musician Josh Ritter is an odd little book. Made up of 42 short chapters in less than 200 pages, the story moves between various periods of Henry Bright's life. Henry is a WWI soldier who returned from the hell of that conflict. After he marries Rachel, a girl from a nearby farm, and she dies giving birth, he finds himself on the run (with newborn son) from her father, "the Colonel," and his two sons. The tale alternates between surreal passages about Henry during the War, on the run from the Colonel, and of his childhood and new life with Rachel. The forward and backward flashes are thrown together somewhat confusingly, often switching from paragraph to paragraph.

The tale is told poetically and compelling, especially as a gigantic, apocalyptic fire sweeps across the land just behind our fleeing hero. There are bits of magic realism in the story, particularly with an angel that talks to Henry through his horse. There are several memorable scenes, particularly Henry's first encounter with the angel in a church amid a war-ravaged French village, and the final confrontation between Henry and the Colonel at a large old hotel being overtaken by the fire. These moments were enough to overcome my occasional frustrations with certain story irregularities, which were sometimes annoying or even baffling, but ultimately only minor distractions.
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