Thursday, May 30, 2013
Blog Tour: A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern
Date: May 28, 2013
Source: TLC Blog Tours
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.)
Reading time: four days
From GoodReads: Inspired by Sam Halpern's childhood in rural Kentucky, A Far Piece to Canaan tells the story of Samuel Zelinsky, a celebrated but troubled retired professor who reluctantly returns after his wife's death to visit a farm in the Kentucky hills where he lived as a child. The son of sharecroppers, Samuel has long since left that life behind-yet now must reconnect with long-buried memories in order to achieve peace.
Delving into the events of 1945, Sam recalls Fred Mulligan, the hired hand's bright and spirited ten-year-old son. Together with two neighbor boys, Samuel and Fred visit the Blue Hole, a legendary pool on the Kentucky River where the hill people believe an evil force lurks. The boys find the body of a dog, surrounded by twisted human footprints, and later discover a cave that offers other evidence that something terrible has transpired. Fearing that they'll be punished for their trespasses, the boys initiate a series of cover-ups and lies that eventually lead to a community disaster.
When the Zelinskys move from the farm, the two boys promise each other that if either of them ever needs help, the other will come to his aid, but after he moves to Indiana and is ridiculed because of his "hillbilly" background, Sam rejects his past.
Now, decades later, Sam is devastated to learn from a fellow classmate about Fred's tragic life story in the years that followed-and manages to make contact with his troubled granddaughter, Lisa June. Though at first she rejects his attempts to reach out to her, through persistence and patience Samuel finally manages to establish a connection, becoming a kind of surrogate grandfather to Lisa June - and finally achieving peace through his late return to Canaan land.
My review: A Far Piece to Canaan combines two of my favorite elements in books: Southern regionalism and coming-of-age tales. Halpern captures the dialect, religion, local folklore, and lifestyles of rural Kentuckians in the 1940s, along with all the struggles of sharecropping. These provide the backdrop for Samuel's coming-of-age in the midst of a community threatened by a mysterious figure.
I greatly enjoyed the mystery and suspense surrounding the strange things occurring within the community. It was fascinating to watch everything unfold, though at times the plot seemed a little too prolonged and I questioned why the characters made the choices they did. Still, the intervening content about Samuel and Fred's friendship and Samuel's growing perception of the society around him was at turns bittersweet and delightfully nostalgic.
The novel was very well-written, and, for the most part, the story flowed well. By the end, however, the story had switched from Samuel's childhood to his redemption, and I was no longer as interested in the plot as I had been previously. The best storyline for me was Samuel's coming-of-age in the '40s, and after that concluded, I started losing interest in the rest of the book. But Samuel's story would not be complete without what came afterwards, and overall A Far Piece to Canaan is a very worthwhile and interesting read.