Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Harbinger by Jack Skillingstead

While Jack Skillingstead has created quite a stir with his well-received short fiction, his novel writing talents have never been on display before (to this reviewer's knowledge, at least). Many authors well known for short stories don't make the transition to novel form well, either never putting out a solid novel, or taking a few before they hit their stride. With that in mind, I entered Skillingstead's new novel Harbinger, out in a month or two from Fairwood Press. To say that my initial fears were a waste of worry is a massive understatement.

Ellis Herrick is a young man, struggling with the difficult emotions of losing a mother and brother, and having a father who can't seem to keep things together. He falls in love with a girl named Nichole, and she nearly kills him in a car crash. After suffering grievous injuries, Ellis is hospitalized, yet he heals at an incredible rate, beyond what anyone should be capable of. Ellis goes on to become something of an icon, not aging and healing from every wound. He tries to come to terms with his seeming immortality, and is met with yet more grief that follows from outliving everyone you know.

Ellis is very often the tragic hero. As he struggles to live well, everyone he cares about dies, and he is perpetually seen as an object, not a person. He is used as an organ doner, and turned into a messiah, yet all he wants is some sanity.

Harbinger runs along at a solid pace, mixing action with hints of romance, philosophy, cultural movements, and much about life, family, and love. Skillingstead seems to effortlessly mix his action filled, quick moving plot with deep questions that leave a lot of thinking to be done after the book is set down. While this novel contains far more than its slight size indicates, it is first and foremost a story of living life and finding love, no matter the struggles and despite all of the mistakes you make. Ellis' tale is at times depressing, poignant, and beautiful.

Skillingstead has created an incredible novel, full of power, containing fully-fleshed settings, difficult questions, and characters that you care for. Harbinger is a wonderful book, and I hope that Skillingstead returns to the novel form soon.


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