The great glorious goddamn of it all A novel

Josh Ritter

Book - 2021

A sweeping novel about the last days of the lumberjacks is told by of one of the greatest lumberjacks of all who recounts tales rife with murder, mayhem, avalanches, and bootlegging in the tiny timber town of Cordelia, Idaho.

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada : Hanover Square Press [2021]
Physical Description
296 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
Josh Ritter (author)
Review by Booklist Review

Weldon Applegate became an orphan at 13 when his lumberjack father died trying to log the Lost Lot, a cursed, timber-rich Idaho mountainside that has long been in the family and on which many lives have been lost. Although Weldon promised his father he'd never go near the mountain, it is now all he has left. At 99, Weldon reflects on his long life, vividly recalling his tumultuous thirteenth year, his first spent on the mountain, trying to survive, striving to earn the respect of the other jacks, and slowly becoming a man. The lives here are hard; one's character and spirit are forged and sharpened like an ax blade to hew through an unforgiving land. The language of Ritter's (Bright's Passage, 2011) characters is poetic, born of generations of storytelling, myth, and tradition. Weldon is flawed, stubborn, curmudgeonly, honest, true, and so wonderfully human. That dimensionality echoes throughout a story at once heart-wrenching, life-affirming, and tear-inducing that still somehow offers the most loathsome villain this side of Cormac McCarthy. Ritter, widely regarded as one of our greatest songwriters, brings that same knack for lyrical precision to his memorable yet completely natural fiction. Depth and humor are woven into richly textured sentences and evocative turns of phrase that seem to announce a new world between each word. There is wisdom on these pages.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Novelist and singer-songwriter Ritter (Bright's Passage) explores the mythic lore of lumberjacks in this sweeping and magic-filled tale. Weldon Applegate, 99, recounts the woolly exploits of his youth in Idaho, where he learned the dangerous and endangered logging trade from his father, Tom. Particularly poignant among the wide-ranging flashbacks is the moment when Tom leaves for the logging camp when Weldon is 13, several years after Weldon's mother died, despite a warning from Sohvia, their 30-something live-in witch, that if Tom leaves he will not return alive. Sohvia then keeps Weldon company in the months until his father's mutilated dead body is returned from the camp. The cast of characters is a busy and colorful bunch, but front and center are Weldon's nemeses: Joe Mouffreau, a "short-necked, spindle-armed, lite-beer-drinking" lumberjack who's now seeing Weldon's born-again ex-girlfriend Marsha, 97 (they'd dated when Weldon was in his 80s), and soulless, imposing "woods boss" Linden Laughlin, who covets Weldon's precious "Lost Lot," a mountain rich in timber he'd inherited from his father. As Joe and Linden circle like vultures while Weldon's on his death bed, his stories add up to a wistful look at a bygone era. Ritter lyrically evokes a town fused to the logging industry by necessity and devotion through Weldon's anecdotal narration, which resonates with a shimmery, deep-seated humanity. Ritter scores another hit. Agent: Lucy Carson, the Friedrich Agency. (Sept.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

Irascible Weldon Applegate, 99 years old "but still I was in my prime," relives his tumultuous days as an orphan among hard-bitten lumberjacks in this free-wheeling folktale by singer/songwriter Ritter. The novel is set in the Idaho town of Cordelia, where Weldon's widowed father, part of a famous family of "jacks," came to run a general store and raise his son. Ignoring the Witch, a Finnish fortuneteller who says he'll die if he returns to jacking, he meets his maker in the form of "two hundred feet of white pine in [his] face." Inheriting the Lost Lot, a treacherous stretch of forest that Weldon's grandfather won in a card game, the 13-year-old boy becomes a thorn in the side of 7-foot terror Linden Laughlin, who wants it for himself. Though Laughlin is known as "the best jack that had ever lived," his co-workers have a way of dying in suspicious accidents. Will young Weldon be next? Spanning Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, and the dreaded modern world of flat-screen TVs, Ritter's follow-up to Bright's Passage (2011) is a scenic, phrase-spinning account that delights in detailing the perilous life of a lumberjack--the difficulty, for example, of getting gigantic trees to fall right and the daunting odds against transporting these "monster logs" to the river bank via a rickety chute. Even accepting the exaggerated reality of a yarn like this, it's not always easy to believe a 13-year-old could do and say the things Weldon does. And a framing story involving a calculating frenemy of the aged protagonist bogs down. But like the song without an ending that one character after another can't get out of their head, the novel has its own infectious quality. In the broad shadow of Johnny Appleseed, this lumberjack's adventures captivate. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.