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Thin Blue Smoke Paperback – August 17, 2012
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The characters came from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and Worgul did a great job of building deep portraits, little by little, over the course of several dozen vignettes -- often with deep flashbacks, sometimes related as stories being told to another character, and sometimes in the voice of an omniscient narrator, but each detail held back until such a time that when they were revealed the behavior of that character suddenly took on a new and deeper meaning.
Perhaps it was because I've listened to blues and eaten barbecue in St. Louis and Memphis, or maybe because I related to the character of the seminarian writer, but by the end I really found myself caring about what was happening to these small town barbecue aficionados and their friends and families. I would NEVER have picked the book myself, but I'm so glad I read it.
In some ways what want is to ask you to just trust me and go ahead and read the book. It is only $3.99 on kindle right now. This version (http://www.amazon.com/Thin-Blue-Smoke-ebook/dp/B0091NDAEA/)
But asking you to trust me is not good enough. Thin Blue Smoke is not an action packed story. It is a story that you make your way through. At some point I felt like it might never end. And then I hoped it wouldn't ever end.
The connecting tissue of the book is Smoke Meat. A small BBQ joint in Kansas City. The owner is a former baseball player. His assistant AB is his late son's best friend. Their regular customers include an elderly blues singer, an alcoholic Episcopal priest and professor, a wealthy developer, cops, journalists and more.
This books jumps all over time, from character to character revealing more and more about the common human nature and need of all people. There are lots of mistakes and sins that have brought everyone to where they are right now. But there is also a God that is present, even in tragedy.
This is a book about the journey toward redemption. The conclusion is a bit abrupt and not completely satisfying,b ut the point of the book is not the conclusion. The point of the story is the journey.
This is not a standard fare Christian novel. It clearly is a Christian novel. God is present here. Thin Blue Smoke presents characters as real people. They drink, have sex, curse, kill, cry and love. This is the type of Christian novel that changes people's perceptions of Christian novels. Christian novels can be more than thinly veiled evangelism or Amish romance. Christian novels can present true life, the way that we actually live it, not just the idealized way that we wish we could.
The depth of development of the characters matches Backman's A Man Calked Ove (and that’s a high standard). The intertwining of the stories, both of each of the characters and between the past and present, and the slow reveal of some of the major story lines engaged me on an emotional level—sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, and always wanting to know more.
The idea that smoke, salt, and vinegar can both destroy and yet purify, and indeed beautify, as exemplified by the dual religious and BBQ evocations of "thin blue smoke" was quite masterful and meaningful because neither was used to hit you over the head, but rather allow you to unpack their meaning.
It is one of those books where I know I won’t be able to read anything for another week or so, now, as I wait to get the characters out of my head and divest of my emotions that I wrapped into the story. This is truly one of the best, undiscovered books out there today.