Land of the Blind
Jess Walter
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Buy *Land of the Blind* online

Land of the Blind

Jess Walter
Regan Books
320 pages
May 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Click here to read reviewer Phillip Tomasso III's take on Land of the Blind.

This out-of genre novel in a mystery format is so well-written that it is impossible not to identify with the murderer as he dictates his "confession" on yellow legal pads, closed off from the world in an interrogation room in the Spokane P.D. For the confessor, Clark Mason, this is "a story of weakness not of strength." But he is judging his life from the perspective of childhood, when betrayals are more devastating, leaving scars that never heal.

Everything hinges on the revelation of Clark's burden, his presumed guilt for actions taken and not taken, for the attachments that have brought him to this dark place, a history of disappointments and failures as a friend. As a young boy, Clark Mason identifies with the misfits while longing for acceptance. In that context, Clark harbors a deep empathy for Eli Boyle, who is constantly tormented by their classmates.

Clark outgrows his earlier awkwardness as the years pass though Eli never does, forever the brunt of practical jokes. Connected by their early bond, Clark works with Eli, coaching him how to dress and act. Ultimately, the direction of Clark's life is determined by his friendship with the gawky youth. Stronger than Eli, even after losing his eye in an accident, Clark goes on to hold class offices, driven to know the acceptance of his peers.

Caroline Mabry, the detective in charge, cannot determine exactly who the victim is, and for reasons even she cannot understand, will not pressure Clark or force a confession before he is ready. Instead, she lurks around the fringes of the purported crime, contacting those who have known Clark, ascertaining that all of them are, indeed, alive. This unbidden empathy for the troubled man confuses Carolyn, but she follows her instincts, holding out against all the principles of police work.

The beauty of this novel is in Clark's honest portrayal of his own life, one laced with poignant reflections, a gutsy clarity that evolves from nothing left to lose. His is not a glamorous world, nor is Spokane more than his city of origin, but Clark's journey from child to man is littered with regrets and poor choices, his past weighing upon the present. For all his flaws, Mason is an extremely sympathetic character, his attachment to Eli another example of a generous nature.

Peppered with an assortment of oddballs and misfits, Walter’s novel lays out a human landscape where life fails to deliver on the promises of youth, leaving characters to fend for themselves. These are ordinary people struggling to survive when the days have lost the bright luster of success and what remains is simple, unadorned reality. With or without Carolyn Mabry's understanding, Clark's dark night of the soul is a solitary quest, one he is committed to finish with some degree of honor. In the end, "maybe it is all we can do sometimes to save ourselves."

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

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