If you’re a regular reader, you know I only offer book reviews once in a while. Basically, only when I read a book that I can’t stand NOT to tell you about. Long Way Gone by Charles Martin is such a book.
First of all, I pretty much love everything Charles Martin writes. He’s solid and his books are jam-packed with grace. Long Way Gone is a retelling of the prodigal son story and it’s masterful, but I’ll let you dig into the actual story. Parsing it here will only lessen its impact. I just want to share how deeply it touched me.
My husband finished the book before I did. He had a three-hour appointment for a recall on one of our cars and pretty much inhaled the story at the dealership and then at home. He said he was glad the waiting room was mostly empty since he might have cried in a few places.
I cried, too, but the good kind of tears when you’re sad, but also grateful that pain can be transformed and redeemed and become something beautiful. I think that’s Martin’s gift. He takes characters who, frankly, aren’t all that great (the hero in Water From My Heart is a drug runner) and makes his readers empathize with them, root for them, and understand them.
Martin cracks open the rough, ugly shells of his characters and, like geodes, shows us the glittering crystals inside. And it’s not just the main characters–pretty much every character has a backstory that helps explain their mess. For example, there’s Frank, the no-good manager of a singer-songwriter bar.
“He’s a local, and aside from being a liar, a cheat, and a thief who underpays his performers, he’s good at his job. He’s bald with bushy eyebrows, is growing wider in the middle, seldom takes his eyes off the floor, drives a twenty-year-old truck that blows white smoke out the left bank, and skims three to five hundred a week out of the cash drawer.”
Nice guy–right? But wait, Martin has one last descriptor for us. “Which he uses to pay for his wife’s cancer medication and his daughter’s speech therapy.”
It’s not that it’s okay to be a thief. Martin simply reminds us that really, we’re all liars, cheats, and thieves who believe our reasons for lying, cheating, and stealing are good ones. If only we knew everyone else’s reason . . .
And there’s the magic of the story. Martin takes us deep inside Cooper O’Connor’s worst mistake and all the repercussions resulting from it. Then he shows how love, forgiveness, and faith can turn pain into a sweet, sweet song.
There’s really only one thing to say at the end of such a story.