The Blood of Heaven

The Blood of Heaven

2.6 8
by Kent Wascom
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of

Overview

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist, no matter their age.

The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.

The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Wascom's debut novel elucidates the messy nature of nation building on the early American frontier. Set mainly in West Florida (comprised of parts of current-day Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) around 1800, the book follows Angel Woolsack through his transformation from preacher to robber to freedom fighter to hero for independence from Spanish rule as Angel joins his adopted brothers in the effort to free West Florida. Aaron Burr features as a fascinating and enigmatic character involved in the ongoing plotting. Ideals of manifest destiny mask the violence and internecine warfare, which is more about settling scores than about freedom. The struggle between wealthy slave holders and populist leaders like the Kemper brothers makes the novel an interesting examination of class warfare. Angel develops insight when he becomes blind and then is blinded to the suffering of others when his sight returns and he becomes a black-market slave dealer. VERDICT This highly readable saga is both charming and intense. Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian meets Devils Dream by Madison Smartt Bell. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]—Henry Bankhead, Santa Clara Cty. Lib., CA
Publishers Weekly
Making brilliant use of a little-known chapter in America’s history, Wascom’s gripping debut captures the pioneer spirit, lawlessness, and religious fervor of the Southern frontier. In the Louisiana Territory in 1799, teenaged Angel Woolsack and his abusive, hellfire-preaching father encounter their equals: preacher Deacon Kemper and his sons. Deacon also deals in guns. Angel becomes blood brother to Samuel Kemper and the two elude their fathers and flee to Natchez, where they alternate between preaching and armed robbery. “I believed crime was spiritual, robbery an act of faith.... In the process, both parties were brought close to God,” Angel says. Eventually they reach the Spanish-owned region known as West Florida, where Angel continues to engage in mayhem and the murder of agents of the law. In time the brothers become involved in Aaron Burr’s treacherous attempt to create an autonomous empire in Louisiana and Mexico. Angel is a hugely flawed hero, mixing biblical cadences with a Southern lilt, and pulsing with violence, religious hysteria, and sexual tension. Weaned on biblical prophecy and an angry deity, he’s unable to resist taking vengeance upon those who oppose him, believing his behavior to be God’s will, and Wascom’s visceral descriptions of slaughter are not for the fainthearted. Yet Angel is also devoted to his pistol-packing bride, Red Kate, and to his handicapped son, and the forces that shape his character and destiny are clear. While Angel is fictional, the Kempers were real figures, legendary for their ambition. In its depiction of a primitive, savage era and of man’s depravity, as well as its sensitive portrayal of souls “drowned in the blood of Heaven,” Wascom’s novel is a masterly achievement. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (June)
From the Publisher

—Shortlisted for the David J. Langum Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction
—Longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan Award for First Fiction
—One of Publishers Weekly’s Best Summer Books of 2013
—A Spirit Summer Reading Pick

“When you read as many contemporary novels as I do, it's easy to get jaundiced, because we're awash in hype, and almost nothing ever seems quite as good as it's cracked up to be. So please know that I'm not just giving this young author a pass. I truly can count on the fingers of one hand the number of first novels that have ever excited me this much. Wascom made me think at times of Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier and William Gay, but his vision is very much his own, as is his extraordinary voice. He's left himself a hard act to follow. This book is pure gold.”—Steve Yarbrough

“The young Master Wascom arrives at our gates wielding a narrative broadsword, speaking in a monstrous voice, a Louisiana visionary in command of an army of bones and by God he comes to conquer. It’s been more than a decade since the literary world has seen such a portentous debut from a novelist prodigy, equal parts savage and savant, and what else is there to say but All hail the future—this boy king has fifty more years of writing to feed our hungry souls."—Bob Shacochis

“Young Kent Wascom went down to the crossroads and there he made his deal. Or maybe he was just born spirited for this kind of work. Either way, I cannot name such a stunning debut as this one. It reads as not written, but lived and remembered—and how impossible is that? Whoever may own Kent Wascom’s soul, The Blood of Heaven will forever be ours.”—Robert Olmstead

“The Blood of Heaven is a brilliant comic rant that, with its twisted religious fervor, holds on to the reader and does not let go. Kent Wascom takes a nugget of colonial history—the Aaron Burr Conspiracy—and imbues it with a fiery life. His is a singular, important, and utterly vital voice.”—Sabina Murray

“In the present age of cultural strife and national re-definition, a brilliantly resonant novel blooming from America’s ever-thus history is just what the zeitgeist deserves. And The Blood of Heaven is as achingly beautiful in its personal story as it is savagely clear-headed in its national story. Kent Wascom has arrived fully-formed as a very important American writer.”—Robert Olen Butler

“Oh America, heart-broken and constantly fought over! The Blood of Heaven is a dark hymn to the ruthless and ruinous early days in the Louisiana fringes of our republic. In the tradition of As I Lay Dying and Flannery O'Connor and Blood Meridian, idiomatic and far off into transgression, this one, from Kent Wascom, bless his genius, is the real deal.”—William Kittredge

“Wascom is a craftsman, and each of his lengthy, winding sentances shimmers with the tang of blood and bone and sweat, and the archaic splendor of his language.”—Boston Globe

“Rendered in lurid, swamp-fever prose swollen with biblical imagery (Burr first appears in the book on horseback, ‘hailed like Christ Himself’), the South of Mr. Wascom's imagination is an inferno of plague, vice and slave trafficking. . . . It's that dizzying pace, especially as Angel sets off on a Tarantino-esque rampage of revenge killings, that makes the book so compelling. Mr. Wascom's writing rolls from the page in torrents, like the sermon of a revivalist preacher in the grip of inspiration. You can't help listening, no matter how wicked the message.”—Wall Street Journal

“Though he’s not yet 30, Mr. Wascom has the gift, the elusive “it” that tells you on the first page that here is someone worth reading. . . . In its best moments, and there are many, you will slip completely into Wascom’s fictional world. . . . You will also be in the presence of a young writer whose talent is obvious, whose sense of narrative is classical and clear, whose understanding of the craft is deep and well-formed and will only get better.”—New York Journal of Books

“[Blood of Heaven] entertains with its energetic language and fast-paced action, and the love story between Angel and his wife is moving in its you-and-me-against-the-world naïveté. Wascom’s research is put to good use as the gargantuan forces of history squash Angel and his associates.”—New York Times Book Review

“The work of a young writer with tremendous ambition, a bildungsroman of religion and revolution set during an obscure chapter of American history. . . . [Wascom] creates a first-person narrator who speaks with fire-breathing eloquence, tormented by God and the Devil and equally conversant with both. . . . Wascom writes with a fire-breathing, impassioned eloquence. Angel’s voice compels our trust from the beginning and echoes all the ghosts of the dark Southern past.”—Washington Post

“If you thought the Wild West was wild, wait until you read about West Florida. In Kent Wascom’s stunning debut novel that territory serves as microcosm of a nation’s dark and violent infancy. . . . With its setting, its violence-driven plot and its resonant and often harshly beautiful language, The Blood of Heaven evokes comparison to the work of Cormac McCarthy. Its mordant humor and its exploration of slavery and violence as the tragic flaws at the heart of American history—as well as its awareness of what hellish danger awaits those who are sure God is on their side—recall such writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Mark Twain. Angel is a terrifying and irresistible narrator, and Kent Wascom is a striking new voice in American fiction.”—Miami Herald

“Wascom's West Florida makes the Old West look like a Disney resort in comparison, and his protagonist is a fitting emissary for this harsh and unforgiving land. . . . Whether describing a tender moment between husband and wife or a brutal revenge killing, there's no question of Wascom's range. . . . There is plenty here to applaud in this grim portrait of a dysfunctional frontier family caught up in a forgotten American war.”—NPR Books

“Kent Wascom, a 26-year-old Louisiana native, has produced an astonishingly assured debut. . . . He is more knowing than a writer his age has any right to be and displays a virtuosic command of biblical cadence and anachronistic vernacular without striking any false notes.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Wascom’s setting fascinates, while the veneer of violence makes us eager spectators in this narrative of American conquest and survival. . . . Ultimately, Wascom skirts around Faulkner’s Mississippi, O’Connor’s Georgia, and McCarthy’s divided interests of Tennessee and Texas to firmly plant his stake in America’s Deep South. It is a wise move. In Blood of Heaven, Wascom paints a fuller portrait of the American South. Though he makes strong overtures to these Southern writers and their territory, Wascom makes it his own.”—Washington Independent Review of Books

“Kent Wascom has written a rollicking historical thriller, a juicy love story, religious symbolism, a tale of woe, adventure, lust, manhood, money-chasing, nationhood, and religious and racial bigotry in early 1800s America. . . . Early American history was raw and gritty, and Wascom deals in that hard-boiled reality, but it’s balanced by a polished and eloquent prose style that has a certain Old Testament quality to it, which gives the tale its unique flavor and gravity. . . . Wascom engages America’s original sin with real force and seriousness; indeed, there are brutal passages that detail this incredible evil as the real-life horror show it was, and truly show America’s complicity in a moral abhorrence.”—Tallahassee Writers Association

“Sweeping themes of good and evil — along with colorful, visceral language and breakneck action — combine in this earthy tale.”—The Asheville Citizen-Times

“Angel Woolsack forsakes life with his itinerant preacher father to follow a daring highwayman, then ends up wending his way from on-the-edge West Florida to the bordellos of Natchez, the plantations of Mississippi, and finally New Orleans, where Aaron Burr is leading efforts to create a new country. It’s a brave and bloody new world, captured with energy.”—Library Journal

The Blood of Heaven is sharply intelligent…extremely violent, constantly profane, darkly comic and very angry. . . .[But] the anger is rooted in moral outrage, so it’s on the side of the angels.”—Columbus Dispatch

“Though it says nothing good about America’s progress that we can still be seduced by a killer and slave-merchant with a coal-burnt silver tongue, this is precisely Wascom’s point. The myths of the founders are our myths, too, and they are myths that I hope Wascom continues to aim at.”—KGB Bar Lit Magazine

“In elegant, lucid prose, fiction newcomer Kent Wascom brings the frontier, in all its violence and disorder, to stunning life in The Blood of Heaven. . . . Wascom is not yet 30, but he infuses his story with a wisdom, awareness, and clarity well beyond his years. . . . Angel’s hold on us never wavers but intensifies. The Blood of Heaven proves Wascom is a trailblazer whose brilliance is not a one-off but a true and rooted fact.”—BookMagnet

“Set in the early part of the 19th century, Kent Wascom's debut novel is an evocative and searing read despite being bleak and peppered with scenes of extreme violence. . . . His voice is his own, unique and haunting. I know of no other author who can more completely transport his readers to the era he wishes to portray. . . . Wascom is an incredible talent.”—BookBrowse

“It’s gritty, visceral, and extremely memorable. It is a portrait of a time and era that is worthy of our attention.”—Shelf Awareness

“Making brilliant use of a little-known chapter in America’s history, Wascom’s gripping debut captures the pioneer spirit, lawlessness, and religious fervor of the Southern frontier. . . . In its depiction of a primitive, savage era and of man’s depravity, as well as its sensitive portrayal of souls “drowned in the blood of Heaven,” Wascom’s novel is a masterly achievement.”—Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“Wascom’s language, gorgeous, expressive, and raw, flawlessly matches his vision of the unruly southern frontier before it latched onto the U.S. . . . Seeing early nineteenth-century America through the eyes of an ambitious, trigger-happy renegade makes for an exhilarating yet brutal ride. Wascom imbues this underexplored era with visceral authenticity.”—Booklist

“Angel Woolsack forsakes life with his itinerant preacher father to follow a daring highwayman, then ends up wending his way from on-the-edge West Florida to the bordellos of Natchez, the plantations of Mississippi, and finally New Orleans, where Aaron Burr is leading efforts to create a new country. It’s a brave and bloody new world, captured with energy.”—Library Journal

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, for The Blood of Heaven is a tale of fire and brimstone, the ballad of a man, and a nation, forged in a crucible of suffering.”—Financial Times

“An exceptionally eloquent and assured debut by a novelist who is still only in his twenties.”—Sunday Times

“Written in vivid hellfire-and-damnation prose . . . Wascom has already been hailed as an important new US writer.”—Metro

Kirkus Reviews
Violence is the one constant in this bombastic first novel about frontier adventurers in the American South at the start of the 19th century. That violence came early for Angel Woolsack. His father, an itinerant preacher, punished the boy by having him suck live coals. The narrator/protagonist will find a friend, though, in another preacher's son, Samuel Kemper, a big lug 10 years his senior. Only 14, Angel impregnates a convert's daughter, who is drowned by her scandalized mother. Angel then strikes his father dead with the shovel used to dig the girl's grave and is saved from a lynching by Samuel, who whisks him away on horseback. Angel sees him as his brother, taking the Kemper name. From Missouri, the "brothers" drift south, and Angel turns criminal, with Samuel his accomplice. He mugs drunken merchants while praying for their souls; a gun-toting, Bible-brandishing daredevil. In Natchez, Miss., he's ready to mate with an equally violent young whore. Red Kate, 14, axed to death the Creek Indians who had kidnapped her; she now works for a fearsome madam. "We're children of desolation," Angel declares to Kate. This rhetorical flourish substitutes for character analysis; the biblical resonance of Wascom's prose helps mask the implausible action. Angel buys Kate from her madam, and the two move to West Florida, still administered by the Spanish. In this lawless country of slavers and hucksters, there will be firefights, ambushes and reprisal killings; Angel, failing to understand that revenge is a dead end and God owes him nothing, discards his Bible. Enter Aaron Burr, the disgraced vice president. Wascom miscalculates by trying to fit his freelance backwoodsman into a historically grounded power play. The star-struck Angel loses his autonomy to become a tiny, uncomprehending cog in Burr's machine, and the novel sinks into a quagmire of shifting historical alliances. A debut that has a certain mad zest but is seriously hurt by its lack of a trajectory.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802193506
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
06/04/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
462,519
File size:
4 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“When you read as many contemporary novels as I do, it's easy to get jaundiced, because we're awash in hype, and almost nothing ever seems quite as good as it's cracked up to be. So please know that I'm not just giving this young author a pass. I truly can count on the fingers of one hand the number of first novels that have ever excited me this much. Wascom made me think at times of Cormac McCarthy, Charles Frazier and William Gay, but his vision is very much his own, as is his extraordinary voice. He's left himself a hard act to follow. This book is pure gold.”—Steve Yarbrough

“The young Master Wascom arrives at our gates wielding a narrative broadsword, speaking in a monstrous voice, a Louisiana visionary in command of an army of bones and by God he comes to conquer. It’s been more than a decade since the literary world has seen such a portentous debut from a novelist prodigy, equal parts savage and savant, and what else is there to day but All hail the future—this boy king has fifty more years of writing to feed our hungry souls.—Bob Shacochis

“Young Kent Wascom went down to the crossroads and there he made his deal. Or maybe he was just born spirited for this kind of work. Either way, I cannot name such a stunning debut as this one. It reads as not written, but lived and remembered—and how impossible is that? Whoever may own Kent Wascom’s soul, The Blood of Heaven will forever be ours.”—Robert Olmstead

“The Blood of Heaven is a brilliant comic rant that, with its twisted religious fervor, holds on to the reader and does not let go. Kent Wascom takes a nugget of colonial history—the Aaron Burr Conspiracy—and imbues it with a fiery life. His is a singular, important, and utterly vital voice.”—Sabina Murray

“In the present age of cultural strife and national re-definition, a brilliantly resonant novel blooming from America’s ever-thus history is just what the zeitgeist deserves. And The Blood of Heaven is as achingly beautiful in its personal story as it is savagely clear-headed in its national story. Kent Wascom has arrived fully-formed as a very important American writer.”—Robert Olen Butler

“Oh America, heart-broken and constantly fought over! The Blood of Heaven is a dark hymn to the ruthless and ruinous early days in the Louisiana fringes of our republic. In the tradition of As I Lay Dying and Flannery O'Connor and Blood Meridian, idiomatic and far off into transgression, this one, from Kent Wascom, bless his genius, is the real deal.”—William Kittredge

“Angel Woolsack forsakes life with his itinerant preacher father to follow a daring highwayman, then ends up wending his way from on-the-edge West Florida to the bordellos of Natchez, the plantations of Mississippi, and finally New Orleans, where Aaron Burr is leading efforts to create a new country. It’s a brave and bloody new world, captured with energy.”—Library Journal

Meet the Author

Kent Wascom was born in New Orleans in 1986, and spent his childhood in Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida. He attended Louisiana State University and received his MFA from Florida State University. In 2012, he won the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, judged by Amy Hempel. Wascom lives in Tallahassee, Florida. The Blood of Heaven is his first novel.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

The Blood of Heaven 2.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kent Wascom has created a masterpiece. I love his writing. If this is any indication of his writing voice, I expect great things from Wascom.
RapidReaderDC More than 1 year ago
I was excited to read about the history of Louisiana but ended up annoyed by the lack of anything lovely or hopeful, just the unrelenting hardness of an ungracious landscape traversed by an inconsistent character. I put this book down and picked it back up more times than I can count, telling myself that I was no quitter and that it had to get 'better', but it was just hard, then harder and then it just broke my spirit to read, even though I finished it. Two stars just because the writer is not terrible at composition, but I had no empathy for any of the characters, nor did they progress in any sort of logical fashion. I didn't trust the historical references because the characters were at once renegade and unremarkable. I can accept that this is a man's book because it was so unsatisfying to anything I wanted to get from reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I finally quit reading abiut half way through. This author knows a lot of words and is not bashful about using them. This story could have been told in about a third of theoages and it would still have been awful. The characters are disgusting. I dislike reading about criminals and other revolting personalities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Historical ? Possible mini series? Read it? sample.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
Some good, but mostly I would consider this a "guy's" book.  Kent Wascom's aptly named debut novel, The Blood of Heaven comes with a ton on accolades from the publishing world, as well as large numbers of reviews singing it's praises.  It has been called "a startling debut" and Kent Wascom an author with "the kind of talent rarely seen in any novelist".  The amount of positive press surrounding this novel, the fact that it is historical fiction, and that it is set in the American South before it WAS the American South, all peaked my interest.  When I began to read, I sat down ready for a treat the likes of some of my favorite historical fiction epics like James Michener's Hawaii, or Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind.  Unfortunately, for me, this book did not live up to my high expectations. The main part of the book takes place in the area of the Louisiana Purchase and West Florida at the time when the land was mostly owned by the French and Spanish.  It is the story of the birth of this area of America as the new country pushes to acquire the land in question, and a group of renegade settlers try to form their own country under the leadership of Aaron Burr.  I have to admit, I have not read a lot about the founding of this area of the US, and therefore, there were a lot of things in the book that intrigued me and left me wanting more information.  That, in a way, is one of the disappointments that I found in this book. The story was very ambitious, including many story lines, but not really doing justice to any of them.  A few less pages and a bit more focus on one or two of the story lines would have allowed me to get more involved in the story. On the whole, I found the flow of the book hard to follow.   Wascom's writing had brilliant moments, but more often, I found it disjointed and harried.   The book is told from the viewpoint of the main character, Angel Woolsack, in a linguistic style that was popular in the 1880s.    Perhaps this unfamiliar linguistic style was part of the problem, but I was never really able to get into the rhythm of the character's story telling voice.  In addition, the voice of the main character, and therefore the book, was very harsh.  There was a lot of graphic descriptions of fighting, death, bodily functions, etc. which just didn't endear me to the main character, or any of the other characters for that matter.   I will readily agree that the life of these people was not the "genteel" life of the planters and plantations, and as such, the main character's voice was appropriate, in the end, my inability to identify with the characters made it all the more difficult for me to get involved in the story.  The funny thing is, as disappointed as I was in this story, there were parts of the story that I enjoyed.  The bond between Angel and his wife, Red Kate, which stood the test of time and weathered so many hardships, was a plus. In addition, I was intrigued by the politics that went into defining the future of this area of the country, and the fact that a group of renegades, lead by Aaron Burr, tried to put together a revolution in West Florida is something I would like to read more about.  All in all I would say that, although there were parts of the book I enjoyed, overall this was not the book for me.  As I read it, though, I kept thinking that this would be the perfect book for either of my adult sons, my father, and many other people who like the rough and tumble, down and dirty, no sugar coating stories of the frontier.   In addition, the flashes of brilliance throughout the book lead me to believe that Kent Wascom has a bright future.  He definitely has already captured an audience for his story....it is just a group that does not include me. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an awesome book. Lots of depth, yet almost reads like poetry. Pretty intense subject matter and you have to really concentrate on what is happening the first 70 -80 pages, but then a real story line begins. I believe we will be seeing some great things from this young man in the future.