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Archangel Hardcover – January 16, 1996
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From Library Journal
Watkins, a gifted young novelist who stands head and shoulders above his more popular but less capable peers (e.g., Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz, Douglas Coupland), most recently raised readers' eyebrows with his fascinating memoir, Stand Before Your God (LJ 11/15/93). In this return to fiction, the thinly veiled title character, Adam Gabriel, returns to his hometown in Maine to battle Jonah Mackenzie, a ruthless logging baron who is destroying the wilderness. Gabriel proves as single-minded as Mackenzie, however, and engages in dangerous "tree-spiking" (i.e., driving long nails into trees in order to discourage chainsaw-bearing loggers). When the dust clears, four men are dead. Unfortunately, the devices that worked so well in Watkins's other novels?idealistic, romantic characters; exotic settings; tight, affecting prose?fall flat here. Female characters in particular, most notably an unstable local woman known as "Mary the Clock," are poorly sketched. Archangel is not up to the author's usual standards, and unless Watkins has a following at your library you can pass on this one.?Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Watkins chooses demanding themes, such as the portrayal of an SS trooper or, as in his last novel The Promise of Light (1992), the struggle for Irish independence. Here, in this riveting and shatteringly lyrical tale, he enters the realm of environmental issues. Jonah Mackenzie, the mill owner in a tiny logging town in northern Maine, is a ruthless man hell-bent on carrying out a vendetta against the forest that claimed one of his legs. He has purchased logging rights to a designated wilderness area and is determined to cut down as many old-growth trees as possible in the little time allotted. He drives his crews to the breaking point, even after a man dies. Mackenzie effects a cover-up, but forces conspire against him. There's courageous Madeline and her pro-environmental newspaper, the Forest Sentinel; an eco-warrior named Gabriel who is busy sabotaging logging operations; Mackenzie's increasingly guilt-ridden foreman; and even his wife. Watkins adeptly orchestrates a thoroughly believable escalation of tension, madness, and violence, all conveyed with bone-chilling accuracy. As taut and expressive as a violin string, this is an outstandingly intelligent and significant novel. Donna Seaman
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Archangel is the story of a man who resists oppression by refusing to satisfy his oppressors. More than that, it is the story of a man who inspires others, who teaches them that dignity and self-respect are more important than security and comfort.
Michael Holly is a Russian-born British citizen who is recruited by the British government to deliver a message to one of their spies while Holly is on a business trip to Russia. Holly is captured and imprisoned. The British make a deal to trade Holly for a Russian spy they are holding in custody, but the deal goes sour when the Russian has a fatal heart attack. Thus begins Holly’s ordeal in a Russian prison camp that is populated by criminals and dissidents and stoolies.
Holly is a classic example of the reluctant hero. He doesn’t give much thought to helping the British. He isn’t particularly motivated by patriotism. When he is imprisoned his initial motivation is to preserve his sense of self-worth and to regain his freedom. He doesn’t care about his fellow prisoners until circumstances force him to acknowledge their value.
Holly has no desire to be a leader, but leadership is thrust upon him. He has no desire to be inspirational, but he is inspired by other prisoners and cannot turn his back on their example. He is constantly torn between his sense that fighting unwinnable battles is foolish and his growing insight that small victories are both possible and worthwhile. Resistance is not futile if those who resist are remembered, if oppressors are made to feel that they have not won anything at all by stamping out the oppressed.
Archangel tells a fast-moving story. The plot features a reasonable amount of action, particularly in the second half. But Archangel is primarily a psychological thriller, a book that forces the reader to ask whether he or she would emulate Michael Holly’s courage and integrity in the face of overwhelming adversity. All of the characters, from the prisoners to the beleaguered camp commander to the KGB agent who wants Holly to confess that he is a spy, are vividly drawn, but Michael Holly is one of Gerald Seymour’s most complex and memorable creations.
Watkins' books always have a moral core, and that is particularly true of this book. This work is a morality play, with multiple comments and themes on environmental issues, the effects of war, and basic good and evil. I cannot recommend this book enough-for the life of me, I cannot fathom a recommendation of less than 5 stars.
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The book has been detailed by other reviewers so I won't bore you with another plot review,...Read more