In the Shadows of the Sun
Alexander Parsons
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In the Shadows of the Sun

Alexander Parsons
Nan A. Talese
272 pages
April 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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With one order (Executive Order 9029), the federal government displaces ranching leaseholders from their land in New Mexico, well within the government's wartime purview in establishing a test site on the property. With a war in progress, there is no one to gainsay the right of the government to use the land in any manner that will aid the war effort.

But for those who must move from their homes, it is a wrenching, irrevocable order. The Strickland brothers are hard, proud men who have worked their spread for generations, eking out a fragile subsistence. Both Baylis and Ross fight against personal embitterment when their livelihood is threatened, but Baylis's wife has long wanted to live in town, although her husband refuses to acknowledge her needs.

Ross, the eldest, is the more stubborn of the brothers, nursing a grudge since the accidental death of their father. Scarce days before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ross' son, Jack, enlists, but Ross refuses to say goodbye to the young man, angry that Jack should leave at a time of crisis. None of the family is sure of Jack's fate after Pearl Harbor, but Ross remains smothered by his rage and general sense of injustice, while Baylis struggles to make peace with the future.

In another part of the world, Jack endures the endless horrors of the Bataan Death March, soldiers like living corpses plodding through an eternity of days to reach the end of their journey. Jack's friends from home fall by the roadside, one after another, he keeps moving, his youthful enthusiasm in the service of his country pounded into painful monotony under the burden of an unrelenting reality. Determined to survive his ordeal, the blood of the Strickland's sings in Jack's blood.

This unsparing novel of the high mountain desert of New Mexico and the jungles of the Philippines is as plain-spoken as the rugged country that requires everything from a man to survive. While Jack wills himself to live and return home, his journey is made more poignant by the desperate straits of the Strickland's left behind, the fragments of love in the remaining family damaged by illicit romance and bitter regret, pitting brother against brother. But the love in this novel is the deep-rooted affection of generations nurtured on their own land, the essence and endurance of family.

Parsons paints a compelling portrait of a harsh country and the men it breeds, their loyalties and resentments, revealed in a sparse prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy (The Crossing, Blood Meridian). Bleak and plaintive, the novel resonates with its own spare beauty as the Strickland brothers are stripped of their home by unalterable circumstances, their personal demons exposed, while a son battles certain death far from home. Finally, the great leveler strikes, the incomprehensible man-made destruction unleashed upon a watching world, all illuminated by the transcendent glare of the atomic bomb.

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

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