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Above All Men Paperback – October 8, 2013
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"Above All Men is a book you will not find yourself capable of walking away from. It grabs you by the throat and slowly starts to choke all of the air out of you ...
before you reach the end of the first page." ~ Lori Hettler, The Next Best Book Club
About the Author
Eric Shonkwiler has had writing appear in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Ohio, received his MFA from University of California-Riverside as a Chancellor's Distinguished Fellow, and has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. time zone. He is the winner of The 2015 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, was selected as a New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence, and his debut novel, Above All Men, was chosen as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association.
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Beyond language, character, and structure, what impressed me most is that this novel is not technically post-apocalyptic. An environmental cataclysm has not left the earth a ruined wasteland beyond hope. This is not The Road. This is not Mad Max. The setting is what I would call “post-collapse.” It is a world where technology and infrastructure have fallen, where drought and weather conspire against basic survival, where families and communities must maintain unity in the wake of this national turning. In Above All Men, America’s modern, technological, materialistic, and comfortable lifestyle bubble has finally popped. The world has not ended. The party is just over. The nation has been thrown back into the “dust bowl” era. Some reviewers have mentioned The Grapes of Wrath. I agree. But, Shonkwiler also taps into many “Western” elements. What we get is a world that has fallen, but is strikingly similar to the America that came before it. This world is not necessarily dismal, but it demands that its people be hard. There is no room for weakness or moral platitudes. Our protagonist becomes well-suited for this new environment, and his son, who will never experience the luxuries we exploit, becomes even stronger.
I greatly appreciated this fresh perspective, and it distinguishes Above All Men from other apocalyptic fiction. It is a refreshing journey through a familiar world that is reverting to an honest state of nature.
Yet despite the harrowing setting and plot, there are glimpses of hope peeking through like rays of light through dust-choked weatherboards. David's resilience, and that of his wife and son, remind us of the strength of human will and the primal instincts of loyalty and love. Above All Men is not a Hollywood disaster flick- it won't leave you with a feel good embrace when the credits start to roll- but it does elicit a powerful feeling of the potential of the individual to survive against all odds.
Having read Eric's early work, I am not surprised at the dark and frank look at human nature this book provides. However, I am startled at how mature and insightful it is, written by someone so young!
If you're looking for a fairy-tale ending or a summer beach read, this is not the book for you.
If you enjoy Cormac McCarthy, buy this book.
If you're looking to brag that you knew of a famous author before anyone else, buy a copy and take a selfie with it on Instagram. ...I did.