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Wonderful portrayal of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary pain,
This review is from: The Jordan Tracks (Paperback)
Steven W. Wise sets The Jordan Tracks in the small town of California, just southwest of Columbia, Missouri. It's a part of the heartland that Wise knows well; he and his wife live on a wooded farm about ten miles north of Columbia. The novel, his fifth (including three originally published by Thomas Nelson), is peppered with references that readers in the Show-Me State will appreciate. (I've lived in Saint Louis long enough to know who wore #6 for the Cardinals, but as a native Chicagoan I'm still sore about the Brock-for-Broglio deal.)
The Jordan Tracks takes place in the fall of 1968 and follows the struggle of Ernie and Christa Bates as they anxiously await the return of their son, Aaron, from his tour of duty in Viet Nam. As with so many plans in this life, the "welcome home" pig-pickin' is put on permanent hold when the Bates are informed that Aaron has been killed.
Christa is solid in her walk with Christ, as was Aaron. Knowing that she'll be reunited with him someday helps to ease the pain, but not so with Ernie. Burdened with guilt from a terrible deed in his childhood, Ernie has never accepted the existence of a loving God. The death of his only son sends Ernie into a shell, unable even to attend Aaron's funeral. He seems barely alive, like a sputtering candle about to flicker out. Forces are at work on Ernie, just beyond the limits of perception, and Christa fights to pull her husband back from the abyss before he allows himself to be swallowed by eternal darkness.
Steven Wise paints a colorful backdrop against which plays the struggle for Ernie Bates' soul. Some may find the dialogue and the characters a bit rustic for their tastes, even corny; to them I politely suggest getting out of the city and taking a good look around. The Jordan Tracks is about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary hurt, and there are an awful lot of folks just like that out here in Flyover Country.
The friendship between Ernie and his co-workers at the local turkey processing plant, Harley Raines and "Fudd" Ledbetter, rings true. (It's obvious that Wise has some turkey processing experience in his work history.) Wise also does a fine job of developing even the secondary characters into personalities I believed and cared about. The plot moves along at a leisurely pace, but that's all right; I really enjoyed getting to know these folks.
Wise is to be commended for avoiding the stock Hollywood happy ending. While The Jordan Tracks ends on a hopeful note, strings are left hanging as strings often do in real life. God promises no tidy resolutions to all of our problems, at least not in this world.
My only criticisms of The Jordan Tracks stem, I think, from the author's choice to self-publish. There are a couple of instances where the word "drug" is used instead of "dragged". This would have been acceptable in dialogue, but it seemed out of place in a novel that is, as a whole, very well written.
A few typos can be forgiven, but one other error stuck out just a bit: Identifying the inspiration for "Fudd" Ledbetter's nickname as a character from a Disney cartoon. Most readers would correctly recognize Elmer Fudd as Bugs Bunny's nemesis in the Warner Brothers cartoons. A second set of eyes would probably have caught that minor mistake.
However, these were minor flaws that didn't distract enough from the story to bother me.
In sum, The Jordan Tracks is an engaging story of average, small town people dealing with world-sized grief. It's not for the reader who wants explosions, monsters, or exotic locations. But The Jordan Tracks may move you in ways that so-called thrillers simply can't.