A Brother's Blood Paperback – 24 Apr 1997
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The first few sentences are a metaphor of the theme of the novel, cutting open the past and exhuming the buried crime. In the first paragraph we discover the narrator is a woman and we get the feel of the strength of her character; we learn that she is not skittish, not prone to the fear of dangers real or imagined. She is not unaware of dangers around her, such as the bears she could hear, and smell them too, "a smell as hard as axle grease."
The rest of the first chapter is packed with good things: beautiful language, moody asides, foreshadowing and subtle revelations of character. The narrator is a 61 year old woman who runs a roadside cafe that caters to truckers, loggers, hunters, and tourists. We like her immediately.
There is a nice bit about the radio, loneliness, the cover of darkness. "I slam headlong into that darkness, hoping that if I go fast enough I'll shatter it like a piece of smoked glass. And on the other side? Maybe morning."
The glass symbol is reprised later in the chapter, when the red-faced man looks in her car window at her, startling her out of a sleep, "as if I'd fallen asleep during those war years and just woke up."
Sleep is a metaphor, as it is the lack of sleep, she says, "that finally begins to hit me--makes me feel my age like a heavy woolen coat that smells of rain."
And the red-faced man has parallel symbols in "the solemn red face of the alarm clock, waiting for first light." Then later the oil light in her car comes on, "a red demon eye staring back at me." Luckily, she finds a Shell service station open, and there is an interesting exchange with the young cat-eyed man who works there. Comments on war, the control of government, the lies, the play of masculinity and femininity. And this is all in the first chapter.
The chapter ends with a reflection on Time: "Time seems to have lost its texture, is able to expand or contract, to take on new shapes like a cloud on a windy day."
The panther, cat, wolf, bear and other hunter allusions intrigue me. But all men aren't predators. Leon, for instance, has rabbit eyes.
Back to that wonderfully multi-leveled and understated scene where Libby is driving in the snow and nearly runs out of oil. Her old car has a degenerative ailment, like cancer. She finds the yellow Shell station (not a Gulf station) in the fog and the young blond man comes out to help her in orange overalls. He has nocturnal eyes too, but he works "with the slow fussy movements of a raccoon."
He checks the oil and brings the dipstick back to show her, "pointing it at her the way a matador aims a sword at a bull." But he doesn't want to hurt her, just to warn her and not just about the cancer in her car. He wears the orange overalls of the oil company, but detests the ongoing Gulf War where men are asked to die for oil.
He tells her the story of his father who fought for them in the Viet Nam war and was sprayed with Agent Orange, and got cancer from it. He is angry about this, not so much about the dying as about the lies, "We're just looking for the bastards to tell us the truth."
This thread, the individual vs. the lies of the military-industrial complex, is mocked when Libby mentions that the souvenirs she sells tourists actually come from the Smokey Mountains. "What do they know?" And the question is reprised again when Libby discusses the newsreel propaganda pictures of goose-stepping blond giants wearing swastikas and jackboots. But it turns out that these German kids look like kids anywhere. "What do we know?"
A moody windswept cover adorns the Harper edition of the book (starkly beautiful too), and I like the easy-to-read print size.