Synopses & Reviews
Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly consumes him. But when young Mercy’s disapproving father threatens Henry’s life, Henry runs as far as he can—to the other side of the world.
The time is 1950, and the Korean War hangs in the balance. Descended from a long line of soldiers, Henry enlists in the marines and arrives in Korea on the eve of the brutal seventeen-day battle of the Chosin Reservoir—the turning point of the war—completely unprepared for the forbidding Korean landscape and the unimaginable circumstances of a war well beyond the scope of anything his ancestors ever faced. But the challenges he meets upon his return home, scarred and haunted, are greater by far.
Robert Olmstead’s riveting new novel is not only a passionate story of love and war, it is a timeless story of soldiers coming home to a country with little regard for, and even less knowledge of, what they’ve confronted. Through his hero, Olmstead reveals an unspoken truth about combat: that for many men, the experience of war is the most enlivening, electric, and extraordinary experience of their lives.
"Olmstead's (Far Bright Star) elegiac, gritty coming-of-age novel is presented in three dramatic sections: Part I finds 17-year-old Henry Childs living with his mother, a nurse, in Appalachia, W.Va., during the spring of 1950. His father largely absent, Henry excels at baseball and grooms horses. He falls in love with the fanciful Mercy, the older daughter of a dictatorial judge, and the two elope to New Orleans, where he works as a janitor until Mercy's vindictive brother arrives to take her back. Part II begins with the heartbroken Henry enlisting as a Marine 'hunter,' armed with the fierce Browning Automatic, and dispatched to Korea, where he participates in the savage and decisive Chosin Reservoir campaign in frozen northeastern Korea. Snippets of male banter help to leaven the hellish brutality endured by Henry and fellow sniper pal Lew, a veteran of WWII. One year later, Part III opens with the shell-shocked Henry, only a bit older but significantly transformed, returning home to W. Va. up the Kanawha River, where the pain of his mounting personal losses threatens to overwhelm his sanity. Despite the narrative's darkening vision ('The Lord is a man of war,' says Henry), enough redemption rescues Olmstead's powerful, desolate, and well-crafted novel from becoming oppressively bleak." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Working-class boy meets rich girl, and forbidden passion flares, in this thought-provoking, unabashedly romantic novel set in the 1950s.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
“Olmstead writes with ferocious economy . . . The book’s continuities are a deep pleasure: a near-mystical regard for horses, for mothers, for weapons—all wrapped in a kind of elegiac masculinity. Olmstead has some of the Cormac McCarthy penchant for mixing tenderness into his terror.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“An unflinchingly realistic, yet artistic, condemnation of war. Disparate backgrounds and desperate times are a seductive combination. Olmstead makes good use of them, and what ultimately distinguishes his exceptional work from more pedestrian literature is his elegant prose. ‘Prosody’—the study of the art of versification—is a word that Henry may not have recognized, but readers of The Coldest Night will not have to consult a dictionary for its definition; Olmstead's writing demonstrates its meaning perfectly.”—BookBrowse
“[An] elegiac, gritty coming-of-age novel . . . Despite the narrative’s darkening vision (“The Lord is a man of war,” says Henry), enough redemption rescues Olmstead’s powerful, desolate, and well-crafted novel from becoming oppressively bleak.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Olmstead (Coal Black Horse) has a spare, direct style that is most effective in the brilliant, engrossing combat descriptions and ironic marine banter.”—Library Journal
“It's extremes that rivet us in Olmstead's searing seventh novel: the heaven of first love; the hell of the battlefield . . . Olmstead’s extraordinary language gives us new eyes. An exceptionally fine study of love, war and the double-edged role of memory, which can both sustain and destroy. Prize-winning material.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Olmstead employs different authorial voices to shape the story. At times the tone is mythic, at times surreal . . . The Coldest Night is powerful, and often beautiful, storytelling.”—Booklist
Editors' Pick for Amazon's Best of 2012 list
Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year
Kirkus Reviews Top 25 Fiction Books of 2012
Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly destroys him. To escape the wrath of the young girl's father, Henry joins the Marines, arriving in Korea on the eve of the brutal battle of the Chosin Reservoir--the defining moment of the Korean War. There he confronts an enemy force far beyond the scope of his imagining, but the challenges he meets upon his return home, scarred and haunted, are greater by far.
About the Author
Robert Olmstead is the author of seven previous books. Coal Black Horse was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction and the Ohioana Award, and was a #1 Book Sense pick and a Borders Discover pick. Far Bright Star was the winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant, and is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.