Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fiction | The Passion of Love & War

When I read Robert Olmstead's The Coldest Night, it was the first adult book I'd picked up in at least a month. It was Thanksgiving Break, and I was looking to binge on books for my full five days of vacation. [See, I told you I was behind in the posting.] Mostly what I was hoping to do was to cross some titles off my never-ending "to read" list, and I essentially just picked whatever was available as an immediate eBook download from the library.

What I didn't expect was to be as engrossed in this story as I was. The Coldest Night follows a young blue-collar working boy named Henry as he falls deep into a love affair with a rich girl whose family are determined to keep the two apart. Seventeen-year-old Henry grows up very fast as he and Mercy throw caution to the wind and let passion guide their lives together.

On the one hand, this novel gives us the star-crossed lovers romance. But then it becomes almost an entirely different book as Henry is taken to the cold, violent battlefields of Korea at the war's most deadly moment. Here, Henry experiences passion of another kind as he witnesses men at their rawest, fighting for survival. It's a jarring transition, being ripped from the passion of young lovers wrapped in the lush warmth of a New Orleans summer to the vast and cold fervor of a battlefield halfway around the world. If you were reading this book in several sittings, it might feel particularly disconnected as you lost sight of Henry's overarching story. 

Despite two parts to the story that so sharply contrast each other in tone and setting, something about this just works

I read nearly all of it in a day, because it is written with an enthralling urgency that leaves the reader hungry to finish. [And I would recommend you also read it in as few sittings as possible!] The writing is succinct but draws attention to the heaviness of both situations, so it's never bogged down by flowery verbosity. I think Olmstead has crafted a novel that is less about the actual plot or characters in the story, but more about the sensations and images conjured by these experiences. I think it's one of those books you have to read deeply to enjoy, or at least with a mindset that is open to an atypical reading experience. Ultimately, it's a story of passion and the deepest evidences of humanity in two powerful, contrasting situations. It shows dark and sad moments but also the beauty in those moments that demonstrate how life always has the ability to rebound and blossom. 

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