I’m fortunate to receive a lot of books as part of my work on Southern Spines and as an author publicist. The delivery men hate my steep driveway, and my husband ribs me when I get excited over the arrival of yet “another book.” A big library book borrower, Zach has recently taken to asking me for recommendations from my treasured to be read piles. Zach really enjoyed The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom, so I asked him to share his thoughts about the book in this guest post. – Alison
Kent Wascom makes me jealous. He’s young (in his 20s), talented (Wascom was awarded the 2012 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for Fiction) and his debut novel, The Blood of Heaven, is being heaped with praise. However envious I may be, the book’s praise is well deserved.
I usually cringe when I hear the term “literary fiction” because it means the book will be overwrought with flowery language and plot will be secondary. Yet, this is a book of high literary merit that entertains all the way to the end.
The Blood of Heaven is also historical fiction—a genre that always leaves me wondering what “really” happened. The novel takes place in Louisiana and Florida during the late 18th-early 19th century. America was a very different country back then. In the book, the United States gets a sweet deal on the territory of Louisiana from the French in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and Florida is ruled by an inept Spanish empire on the wane.
When the book begins, protagonist Angel Woolsack and his preacher father are at a settlement in Missouri where people live in holes in the ground. Life is not fantastic. Taking a page from the 18th century parenting guide, Angel’s father makes his son put a hot coal in his mouth to imagine the “fires of Hell.” I would call that an impression-maker.
Angel befriends another preacher’s son, Sam Kemper, and the two escape to Cincinnati and travel down the Mississippi River. There they meet up with Kemper’s brother, a man of business. Angel and Sam are preachers by day and thieves by night. Yes, a character named Angel acts in a morally compromised way. The preacher’s son finds that his best skills are trafficking in human lives and ending them.
Writing historical fiction must be fun for the study of the language alone. Here’s how Angel describes his early friendship with Sam:
He was a masterly cusser, and I was alternately a fuckero, a shitbird, cunnytwist and rag, a bullockflap, scroter, piss-leg, cockswill and turd.
Angel and Sam eventually settle in Spanish Florida where they clash with the local powers that be and foment a rebellion. They make poor military leaders.
Angel also pairs up with Red Kate, the prostitute with a lust for blood. Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with Aaron Burr, Angel takes over a gang of men hungry for freedom and perhaps a new nation.
Come for the colorful language and stay for Kent Wascom’s dark journey into a young nation stumbling its way into continental domination. Learn more about Wasom at his author website at kentwascom.com.