Book Review - Jackie K Cooper
LONG WAY GONE by Charles Martin
In the world of popular fiction Charles Martin has come to be known as the thinking man's Nicholas Sparks. He writes stories about love that are emotionally complex in the essence of the characters as well as in the depth of the plots. His last novel WATER FROM MY HEART was one of the best books of 2015, and his new novel LONG WAY GONE has been highly anticipated. Sadly it does not quite live up to expectations.
LONG WAY GONE tells the story of Cooper O'Connor, a singer/musician with amazing talent. The story starts in the present and involves his catching up with his lost love Daley Cross. She too is a singer and once had a glorious career ahead of her. Somehow things took a downward turn and she is now playing on street corners and very small clubs. When these two lost souls reconnect the story flips back in time and tells Cooper's story as a kid growing up with an itinerate preacher as a father.
Cooper's father was his idol for most of his young life. He wasn't the most gifted singer but he had a way of mesmerizing people. When Cooper was a small boy his father began to make him part of "the act" and people were drawn to him too. Cooper could play a guitar like the best of them and his voice was golden.
The book focuses on these blissful years with his father but then abruptly veers into another element when he and his father part ways. It is the prodigal son story come to life. Cooper breaks ties with the one person who means everything to him and this part of the story just doesn't ring true. The cause of the rift is never fully explained, at least not to my satisfaction.
After the exile years, the story comes back to the present where it takes up the Cooper/Darby relationship one more time. This switching back and forth with the characters doesn't make for a cohesive read. You have reader whiplash and that is never a good feeling.
The book does have its moments. Martin can describe certain scenes with such detail that the words go straight to your heart. He does this over and over again in LONG WAY GONE. He is also so adept at describing the songs in the story with such minutia that you can actually hear them softly playing in the background as you read. This is an amazing feat and it requires a wealth of knowledge about music and its construction on Martin's part.
Faith is also an integral part of LONG WAY GONE. Cooper is a devout believer and there are miracles along the way for him. For some readers these moments will be uplifting while for others they will undermine the believability of the narrative. Those who have read Martin in the past know he infuses his faith in every story he writes.
LONG WAY GONE is a story that would have benefitted by being told in a linear fashion. The back and forth elements of the narrative weaken the overall effect and in some ways diminish the love story which is at the heart of the book. Also the reversal of temperament in Cooper's character goes completely against the grain of what we have learned about him and throws off the balance of the story completely.
Martin has written a good book; he has not written a great book. With his talent readers have the right to expect a great book every time.
LONG WAY GONE is published by Thomas Nelson. It contains 320 pages and sells for $25.99.
Jackie K Cooper