Canaan's Tongue

John Wray, Author . Knopf $25 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4086-5

This much-anticipated second fiction from Wray (The Right Hand of Sleep, 2001) is more an evil take on Tristram Shandy or Mason & Dixon than on Right Hand precursors Graham Greene or Joseph Roth. Genuine and imagined quotes from Mark Twain, narrative passages by assorted quixotic characters (including the occasional declaration from God), diary entries, letters, criminal inquisitions, etc., are brilliantly used by Wray to describe, and partially veil, the real-life atrocities of the infamous mid–19th-century preacher, horse thief and murderous schemer John Murrell, called the "Redeemer" by Twain in Life on the Mississippi . Set in 1863 and narrated chiefly by Virgil Ball, the right-hand man and eventual assassin of Thaddeus Morelle (Wray's fictional "Redeemer"), the novel details the final days of a curious handful of holdout cutthroats from Morelle's once much-larger band at Geburah Plantation, La., on the banks of the "Big Muddy." As the novel opens, one of the group has been found murdered, and the resulting inquiry unfolds by fits and starts amid an untidy sequence of flashbacks. The dark side of American history has always been best treated by the novel, and Wray does justice to some incredibly rich and challenging material, forging a style that is as loose and wild as its subjects. Steeped in effective 19th-century archaism, yet steely in sustaining the story, the prose is as poetic as it is violent. Agent, the Wylie Agency . (June 1)

Reviewed on: 05/23/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
Paperback - 341 pages - 978-1-4000-3381-2
Open Ebook - 311 pages - 978-0-307-42515-7
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