John Chapman, a World War I veteran with PTSD has a poet's soul. He finds work as a farmhand with a dairy farming family who, in their own stalwart, beholden-to-no-one way, help him find the 'way back' to wellness and a happy life. The narrative is a kind of historical/poetic frame story, weaving together the lives of three generations of characters through the central prism of Chapman's journal, found in a barn being torn down in present day Wisconsin and lovingly shared by the author as a tribute to Chapman.
Chapman's poetry alternates with historical and cultural references from World War I through the Great Depression to the dawning of World War II, and colloquial Wisconsin dialogue that is as heartwarming and educational as it is funny in that particularly wry Midwestern way that can only be depicted accurately by a native. S.K. Carnes is a gifted writer at the top of her game, capturing the images and episodes of an era and a heartland lifestyle that is rapidly vanishing from the American consciousness with a clarity and poetic vision that render the narrative unique and compelling. In an early glimpse of Chapman, Carnes describes her quiet hero as having "Muckelty-dun eyes rimmed in blue ... eyes of that color could steal your heart away." Prose like that does not come along every day!
The Way Back has romance, history, adventure, drama, poetry, a quietly epic feel, a magnificently rendered landscape, and eclectic characters unlike any of the 'ho-hum' heroes of lesser fiction. Having once entered John Chapman's world, readers will want to linger, holding close one of the most pure-of-heart and earnestly crafted narratives in recent memory.