I will always look back on the summer of 2017 as the time I discovered Charles Martin. Back in June, I happened to ask my lifeguard friend at our pool what book he was reading on his break. It was a Martin novel. He raved about it, and highly recommended it, so I went to the library and checked one out. I was hooked! I have a “book friend” at church and shared my new find with her. She is a blogger for publishing companies and just happened to have one of his books in her waiting-to-be-reviewed pile, so she passed it along to me.
Long Way Gone is the fourth of his that I have read. Before I write about this book specifically, I would like to say that Martin’s depth of knowledge in whatever area his main character is involved in is profound! Whether it is survival techniques, river navigating, art, running, music, football, he has done the research or has experienced it himself and draws the reader in yet without getting bogged down in details. Also, I guess I typically gravitate to female authors, so it’s been refreshing to have a strong, male perspective, as all of those that I have read thus far have been written in first person from the male protagonist’s point of view. One can easily surmise that Martin is a man of faith from reading his books (including the postscript!), though I appreciate his more subtle approach to writing in the “Christian Fiction” genre, as opposed to the “in-your-face” style some authors adopt. He deals with issues of faith that we can identify with, thus leaving us with a keen affinity with his characters.
Long Way Gone is a modern allegory of the biblical tale of the Prodigal Son. Cooper O’Connor is a gifted musician – a talented guitarist, pianist, and singer/songwriter. Cooper is in his mid-forties when the story begins (with, by the way, breathtaking descriptions of mountain towns in Colorado that make you want to visit there!). From the very first page, Martin plants tidbits of information about Cooper that make the reader curious to know more. Cooper is telling his story in his own words. He crosses paths in Chapter One with Daley Cross, someone that obviously meant something to him at one time. They reconnect, make some music together, have some conversations that make the reader wonder what the history is between these two. Then Daley steps back out of the picture, leaving an uneasy feeling of unfinished business.
Cooper takes the reader back as far as he can remember and fills in the blanks with his interesting life history. As in the familiar story in the Bible, Connor has an amazing, larger-than-life man for a father, who happens to be a traveling preacher and a musician himself. If you don’t have the kind of relationship that Connor and his dad had, it makes you want one like it. Sadly, Connor realizes too late what a treasure he had in his father – one who protects and counsels with his best interests in mind – and he goes his own way, high on his God-given ability as a musician and convinced he can achieve fame and fortune. He escapes to Nashville, but it does not take long until he loses everything he holds dear. He is riddled with guilt and can’t seem to catch a break. Things start to turn around for him when Daley Cross enters the scene, then tragedy strikes again. The story comes full circle, but not necessarily in the way one might expect the parallel to go. It is a tale filled with loss and hope, pride and being humbled, despair and forgiveness, and the power of unconditional love.
Long Way Gone spoke to my soul particularly because the common thread running throughout the book is music, and I am a musician. I have read other books with music as the dominant theme and have been disappointed and left with a feeling that the author didn’t really know what he was talking about. Chapter Five of Long Way Gone begins with, “Describing music is tricky. . . Music is felt on one level, and understood or processed on another. . . Music is meant to be experienced, not described.” YES!! So true.
I could picture Martin’s scenes in my mind’s eye, but I found myself wishing I could hear Cooper perform! I, like Cooper, grew up with the old hymns implanted on my brain and in my fingers and voice. I, too, have experienced the rush that success brings, and how quickly it can go to your head and make you forget the One who bestowed that talent on you in the first place. But I also appreciate coming back to my roots, just like Cooper did, and allowing the lyrics to those wonderful hymns be a balm to my soul and a reminder of my heritage.
Thomas Nelson provided my “book friend” a complimentary copy for our honest, unbiased review.