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The Blood of Heavenby Kent Wascom
Synopses & Reviews
One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist, no matter their age.
The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preachers son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.
The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.
"Making brilliant use of a little-known chapter in America's history, Wascom's gripping debut captures the pioneer spirit, lawlessness, and religious fervor of the Southern frontier. In the Louisiana Territory in 1799, teenaged Angel Woolsack and his abusive, hellfire-preaching father encounter their equals: preacher Deacon Kemper and his sons. Deacon also deals in guns. Angel becomes blood brother to Samuel Kemper and the two elude their fathers and flee to Natchez, where they alternate between preaching and armed robbery. 'I believed crime was spiritual, robbery an act of faith.... In the process, both parties were brought close to God,' Angel says. Eventually they reach the Spanish-owned region known as West Florida, where Angel continues to engage in mayhem and the murder of agents of the law. In time the brothers become involved in Aaron Burr's treacherous attempt to create an autonomous empire in Louisiana and Mexico. Angel is a hugely flawed hero, mixing biblical cadences with a Southern lilt, and pulsing with violence, religious hysteria, and sexual tension. Weaned on biblical prophecy and an angry deity, he's unable to resist taking vengeance upon those who oppose him, believing his behavior to be God's will, and Wascom's visceral descriptions of slaughter are not for the fainthearted. Yet Angel is also devoted to his pistol-packing bride, Red Kate, and to his handicapped son, and the forces that shape his character and destiny are clear. While Angel is fictional, the Kempers were real figures, legendary for their ambition. In its depiction of a primitive, savage era and of man's depravity, as well as its sensitive portrayal of souls 'drowned in the blood of Heaven,' Wascom's novel is a masterly achievement. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Kent Wascom was born in New Orleans in 1986, and spent his childhood in Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida. He attended Louisiana State University and received his MFA from Florida State University. In 2012, he won the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, judged by Amy Hempel. Wascom lives in Tallahassee, Florida. The Blood of Heaven is his first novel.
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