As the former director of a monthly first editions fiction bookclub and a current reader on the selection committee for one, I have been asked more than once just what literary fiction actually is. The stock answer that I generally give people is that it is character-driven fiction as opposed to fiction primarily driven by plot. This is an extreme simplification, but it suits my purposes. This means that the books that I often end up reading for work (and for fun too, let’s be honest) are mostly introspective descriptions of the human psyche and tend not to have a lot of action. And as much as I absolutely adore the genre of literary fiction, I find that many of the novels I end up reading tend to Really. Drag. On. Sometimes to such a degree that consumption on the book loses all its appeal.
This was NOT a problem for me while reading Fallen Land, which could be nut-shelled as a condensed Cold Mountain. I read all of Fallen Land in 2 days, while I was supposed to be doing other things. That’s when I do my best reading. Or napping. Or Hulu watching.
Fallen Land follows friends and eventual lovers Callum and Ava, one an orphaned Irish immigrant horse-thief on the cusp of manhood and the other a daughter of an educated mountain doctor who is pregnant with the child of her rapist. The reader is not the only one following the pair. They are chased by a pack of malicious and predatory Confederate deserters, led by an infamous bounty hunter. Callum, Ava, and the sturdy horse Callum stole run desperately from the Blue Ridge Mountains, where outlaws prowl the high country, towards the double-edged safety of Sherman’s troops marching towards the Atlantic, cutting a swath of ruin through the countryside in hopes of losing their pursuers and eventually finding a home.
Slated to be published in January, Fallen Land is Taylor Brown’s debut novel. I’m not the only person to be offering praise before it has even come out. Besides earning three different starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Booklist, Wiley Cash has shown his support and lent the following splendid blurb to the cause:
“In Taylor Brown’s riveting novel Fallen Land a young man and woman wander south through a post-apocalyptic landscape that portrays the horrifying ravages of the Civil War. It is rare thing for a writer to have the talent and scope to exhibit both the worst and best of humanity in one book, much less in one scene, but that’s what Brown does here: He literally floods the page with violent beauty and devastating grace. Well-known and oft-praised writers will look back on long and storied careers only to wish they had written a debut novel as flawless as Fallen Land.” — Wiley Cash, author of This Dark Road to Mercy
To say that danger lies around every corner would be an understatement in a world where literally everything is poised on the brink of ruin, including your own body, which could be cut down at any moment by a horde of violent men or a horde of violent diseases. No matter what the force is that threatens the pair and their horse, whether its southern soldiers, northern soldiers, infection, cold, starvation, they all begin to look the same, bringing home how war and violence makes animals of us all.
I’m going to include one of my favorite passages. I’m copying this from an uncorrected version, which means there is the possibility that it will be different from the published version (but I hope not, because I love it). In the passage, Callum is looking down on an encampment of enemies from a temporary resting place with Ava. They have been relentlessly pursued for days and barely escaped several times.
“He wished he could be something more than he was, something wicked and biblical. Something that could come through them in the dead of night. End them. Then they could worry him no longer. Worry him about how they might steal away what was good in his world, what he loved. And thinking of what he would do to them, what secret butchery, he wondered if something mean had slipped into him. Something vicious. For the first time, he touched the pale worm of scar growing along the side of his head, still tender above his dead ear.”
Check out Taylor Brown’s website here: http://www.taylorbrownfiction.com/
And look for this gritty, powerful, heart-gripping novel on January 12th because it has more than earned The Taste Maven Stamp of Approval!