Book Review Jackie K Cooper
Sweetwater Blues by Raymond L. Atkins
I am late to the party celebrating Raymond L Atkins as a talented author, but at least I have arrived. I became aware of this author when his first book The Front Porch Prophet was published but I didn't sample his work until his third book Camp Redemption came out. That book impressed me with the author's way with words but his humor and plot structure eluded me. Therefore I picked up his latest Sweetwater Blues with trepidation.
This new novel once again impressed with the undeniably beautiful descriptions of people and their settings. Atkins writes with watercolor words and fills his book with pictures that create a total world for the reader. Once again the plot was slow to grab me but by the third chapter I was caught up in its rhythm and flow. When I begin to see the book as a series of incidents and not a linear plot driven piece I was able to relax and feel its power.
The main character is Palmer Cray, a young man who has a good heart and good intentions but he has made some mistakes in his life. He is paying for them with a ten year sentence in Sweetwater Prison. One of his worst mistakes involved drinking and driving and this resulted in the death of his best friend Rodney Earwood. His death haunts Palmer and leads to his quest for redemption.
What this redemption can be is a quandary for Palmer. He tries to analyze it all but ultimately finds that his heart knows more than his head. His natural instincts lead him to acts of ineffable grace. Reading about them the reader is mesmerized by their power, and humbled by their honesty and beauty. It has been a while since we have had a hero with the strength of character possessed by Palmer Cray.
Atkins writes about the ordinary man and lifts him up by his ethics and morality. He does not create idyllic characters but rather gives us the ordinary presented in extraordinary ways. It is impressive to behold and makes the reader feel better about humanity overall.
Atkins previous novel was called Camp Redemption, and this book could have been titled Redemption. He seems to have a theme going here. Hopefully he will expand on it even more in the books that follow. He is one of those rare authors who can glorify the good without being saccharine.
The party for Atkins' talent continues. Come join me at the table.
SWEETWATER BLUES is published by Mercer University Press. It contains 350 pages and sells for $18.00.
Jackie K Cooper