This book was read and reviewed by guest commentator, Jennifer Campbell, one of my wonderful and fabulous sisters-in-law.
The Angels’ Share Book Review
By Jenn Campbell
It has been said that death is so inconvenient. The McFee Family knows this all too well. Prohibition led to the unexpected death of the family business, the Old Sam Bourbon Distillery, which instigated the tragic suicide of the elder Sam McFee. Then, when a mysterious accident results in the death of young Henry, the dancing prodigy, the McFee family is lost in a fog of unimaginable grief. All seems hopeless until the brutal murder of a homeless vagrant. Who was this Asher Keating who lies rotting in the grave in the potters’ field adjacent to the McFee homestead? What are the twelve, pitiful followers who camp near his grave hoping to prove? And why, for the love of all things supernatural, are strange, wonderful things suddenly happening in this god-forsaken town?
The Angels’ Share by James Markert is set in a fictional, struggling town in Kentucky, in the tumultuous 1930s during the Great Depression. The story is told through the eyes of Johnny, the oldest son of Barley and Samantha McFee. His own coming-of-age journey is woven throughout, with much emphasis on the complexity and strength of family bonds, young love and the power of believing in something bigger than yourself.
Markert’s excellent development of characters left me with no doubt that I, given the opportunity, could pick the primary and secondary characters of Angels’ Share out of a crowd. No one was perfect. Everyone was broken. All were in need of redemption, which propels the story forward as each character recognizes their own need of healing. Also, even though I’ve never tasted a lick of bourbon, I feel as if I have after reading Markert’s delicious, colorful description of the masterfully, crafted adult-beverage. I quickly learned what the “angels’ share” is all about. I was also fascinated by the vivid imagery of days gone by, including reintroducing words and phrases common during that era. I appreciated Markert’s attention to background details that ultimately make this tale a very informative piece of historical fiction.
In any good story, there’s usually a dash of romance. The Angels’ Share is no different as Johnny’s crush on Polly, the beautiful girl who believes Keating is Jesus Christ, intensifies with every encounter. I enjoyed the progression, but felt Markert missed an opportunity to keep it pure. For the most part, details were left to the imagination, but I would suggest an older reading audience for this reason. Also, there is a fine line between respecting the magic behind the extensive process of bourbon making and remembering the tragedy that follows the abuse of any kind of alcohol. While the negatives are fairly highlighted throughout the book, there is also a bit of glamorization that may or may not be unintentionally inviting to an unware reader.
Perhaps the most challenging theme for me in the story was the comparison of Asher Keating with Jesus Christ. I kept reminding myself that The Angels’ Share is a work of ficiton in an ongoing effort not to be offended by the unsatisfying analogy. It was hard to reconcile the flawed humanity of Keating with the flawless God-Man, Jesus Christ. But, this is fiction. You can’t really reconcile something that is “made up” for the purpose of entertaining the mind and heart. And that’s ok. In the end, that’s what makes good fiction.
I give The Angels’ Share 4 out of 5 stars.
This book was provided by Fiction Guild and Tyndale House for review without compensation.