Monday, January 11, 2016

Best Books by James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is perhaps the finest writer of fiction in America. His characters are deep south monstrosities, and he reserves the most descriptive condemnation of uneducated, violent people of anyone writing. His view of human evil is unexcelled. His bad guys are irascible scoundrels who torture people for fun, rape out of pride, and make the most ardent cage fighting fan or rooster death match aficionado look like a saint by comparison. These guys, some of them, would find ISIS tame. Yet here’s the odd thing: Burke, after his hero exacts revenge (whether in their own drunken rage or not) redeems them in the end with a higher vision of beauty and peace. He visits hell, but ends with a vision of heaven. The contrast is very affecting, which is why Burke has been compared to Faulkner. His mysteries are literature (just as Ray Bradbury’s science fiction stories are literature), and Purple Cane Road is his masterpiece. (In an interview he told me that was his favorite too, when “everything came together.”) From its opening scene in revolutionary Mexico to the Battle of the Marne in 1918, and on to the bordellos and saloons of San Antonio during the reign of the Hole in the Wall Gang, House of the Rising Sun is an epic tale of love, loss, betrayal, vengeance, and retribution that follows Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland on his journey to reunite with his estranged son, Ishmael, a captain in the United States Army. Narrator Will Patton is an Obie Award–winning theater actor. He appeared in the film A Mighty Heart with Angelina Jolie. Patton has narrated audiobooks by such authors as Charles Frazier, Larry McMurtry, Don DeLillo, and Ernest Hemingway.

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