All Things Left Wild by James Wade

Reviews > All Things Left Wild

All Things Left Wild by James   Wade

All Things Left Wild
by 

James Wade (Goodreads Author)

I was late to the reading of this novel, having read author James Wade’s extraordinary book, River, Sing Out, first, which made me immediately turn to this compelling debut novel.

All Things Left Wild is the ultimate “Road Trip” story, made all the better for being on horseback through the wilds of 1910 East Texas. It grips the reader from the start, with a sense of building urgency spawned from two horse thieving brothers on the run– one with a conscience; the other a loose cannon verging on sociopathic– who become entangled with disreputable characters hiding questionable agendas, while the erudite, gentleman the boys wronged is completely out of his comfort zone but has something pressing to prove by giving the brothers chase, on what becomes his life-altering, personal odyssey.

A gripping story written from two points of view, in intriguing, thought-provoking language that soars like poetry, and realistic dialogue that keeps you steeped in the moment. The story is set in the raw American West and has it all: cowboys, Indians, thieving, murder, and characters with such heart and soul as to make the whole page-turning story utterly plausible.

An action-packed, character driven, viscerally atmospheric, and stirringly beautiful story, All Things Left Wild seals the deal for me: I’ll be reading all of James Wade’s future books!

Author James Wade

An Added Bonus is to tell you that Author James Wade does a weekly video he calls Sunday Sessions, where he reads inspiring sentences from books he admires and breaks the sentences down to discuss precisely why he likes them. Interesting and informative, the videos remain up after they debut, and I recommend you follow James Wade on Instagram and Facebook to see them!

https://www.instagram.com/jameswadewriter/

https://www.facebook.com/jameswadewriter

The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney

Official Book Cover for The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney


As my review of this extraordinary book appears in the New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/cicada-tree.

The coming-of-age concerns in Robert Gwaltney’s riveting The Cicada Tree are set against a surreal Southern backdrop so plausibly staged as to seem par for the course throughout the first-person narrative of Analeise Newell, who unfurls a fantastic story in hindsight about the perils of obsession. Analeise ominously begins, “It was the cicadas’ singing I remember best—their courting song. It was frenetic beckoning for the affection of another that stirred the heat to reckless speeds that summer, the summer I turned eleven.” 

It is 1956 Providence, Georgia, and young Analeise lives in a humble house with her mother, Grace, who lives apart from Analiese’s hard-drinking, shiftless father. Beneath their roof cohabitates Miss Wessie and her eleven-year-old granddaughter, Etta Mae. The foursome is a harmonious, biracial family, the girls in school as Miss Wessie keeps house, while Grace works multiple jobs, including part-time domestic work for the Mayfields—the wealthiest family in town who live in an opulent mansion and maintain a mystique of legendary status.

The four main characters are each blessed with an extraordinary gift of otherworldly proportion: Etta Mae sings opera in the voice of an angel; Miss Wessie bears clear-sighted wisdom; and Grace, a talented seamstress, divines the future in her stitches and receives prescient hunches each time the scar she received from a snakebite throbs.

Analeise is a prodigy on the piano to the point where she can see and taste music, and explains, “Though Mama was brilliant with a needle and thread, it was her ability to read the future in her own sewing that was the true gift, an ability as deep down a part of her as the music inside me.” Analise describes Etta Mae’s singing by recounting its initial impact, “It seemed I was the only one who saw it. The only one to see Etta Mae’s voice turn into a real, seeable thing—puffs of breath blown in the winter’s cold… and I could taste it. Love and want. More of a texture than a flavor, cotton candy melting on my tongue, dissolving to a sugary grit.”  

The high drama of The Cicada Tree centers on Analeise’s experience with the three members of the enigmatic Mayfield family who share a dark history. When Analeise comes into contact with Marlissa Mayfield at school, she, as well as all others in Malissa’s orbit, is beguiled by her charisma to the point of obsession.

At home, Miss Wessie tells Analeise to stay away from the Mayfields. “Them Mayfields ain’t for you,” Miss Wessie says, and when Analeise presses her to clarify rumor concerning Marlissa’s brother, Miss Wessie hesitantly confesses he was, “As blond as the rest of them, his eyes greener, a kind of shine that makes you feel a strange kind of way. That makes you want to be close. . . . All of them—Mr. Kingston, Miss Cordelia, and Marlissa. They all got it. An unnatural kind of charm.” Analeise admits, “I knew what it was like to stand in the shine of a Mayfield. So blinding you have to squint.” 

Analeise Newell is a remarkable character, a deep-thinking, uniquely voiced, secret keeping Scout Finch with an exuberant edge you’d follow anywhere. Prone to mischief and grappling with complicated adolescent feelings including a dark, covetous envy, she knows she is pretty, yet in light of the strange goings on around her, she is also self-aware and says of herself, “But what did pretty matter if my inside parts did not match? I imagined my innards, discolored and mushy, a half-eaten watermelon left too long in the sun. I was layers of mean thoughts and murderous prayers. What else might I be capable of if a thing needed doing?”

The Cicada Tree has elements of mystery metaphorically set among a phenomenon of Biblical proportions occurring once every 13 years, and Gwaltney takes the reader into the middle of it when the town is overrun by a swarm of cicadas. Gwaltney leaves nothing unattended in the chaos, when the characters run home for cover. Analeise says, “The four of us moved in close, folding in together, weaving a knot. The song of the male cicada rose, the sound of millions of buckling tymbals. Vibrations passed through the walls with the rise of the racket, agitating the floor, worrying our feet. Our heads jerked and strained in all directions, keeping check on the walls, spying all the dark corners. The light from the dwindling candle distorted our faces, having its way until we were no longer ourselves. All of us left there growing mad from the sound.”

From her self-oriented view based on past actions, Analeise fears her and Etta Mae’s involvement: “The natural world had come undone, the delicate underpinnings unhinged and knocked loose by a song. Etta Mae, she had been the one to do it, to raze the place with hail—to unleash this plague of cicadas. But whose fault was it really? Had I not been the one to strike the blow, to set the plan?”

Blending gothic elements into Southern fiction paired with musical notes of magical realism, Robert Gwaltney’s The Cicada Tree blindsides with creative intelligence, leaping across genre boundaries in elegant prose to weave a wholly symphonic experience with all the hallmarks of an instant cult classic.

Robert Gwaltney

Headshot of Author Robert Gwaltney in a Black Turtleneck Sweater
Meet The Author of The Cicada Tree

A graduate of Florida State University, I presently reside in Atlanta Georgia with my partner. By day, I serve as Vice President of Easter Seals North Georgia, Inc., a non-profit organization strengthening children and their families at the most critical times in their development. Through my non-profit work, I am a champion for early childhood literacy. In all the hours between, I write.

Raised alongside three feral, younger brothers in the rash-inducing, subtropical climate of Cairo Georgia, I am a lifelong resident of the South.  A circumstance, no doubt, leaving an indelible mark upon my voice as a writer. 

Aside from sense of place, my writing is influenced and inspired by the literary work of others.  As a boy, it was with great obsession, I turned the well-worn pages of Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane EyreWuthering Heights? Yes, another source of adoration. And Truman Capote’s debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, I admire with equal reverence along with everything ever written by Tennessee Williams. 

Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham is one of my all-time favorite characters. Many hours I spent playing her, wrapped in an old lace tablecloth borrowed from my mother’s linen closet—my tattered, makeshift wedding dress. Locked away in my boyhood room, I haunted the place, plotting revenge, shooing rats from the wedding cake. “Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy,” I would whisper into the impressionable ear of my lovely Estella.  Break their hearts.

As an adult, my literary palate is diverse, reading everyone from the sublime Michael Cunningham to the gifted Jesmyn Ward to the incomparable Ron Rash. Though my tastes have evolved through the years, one constant remains: the impact of literature and art and music upon my writing. And my unrelenting quest to make and find beauty in this world.    .

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At Never More Books in Beaufort, South Carolina, March 24, 2022. AND simultaneously Available Live on The Pat Conroy Literary Center’s Facebook Page. Check there for the time!

The Best Southern Books

As it appears on Shepherd: Best Books

https://shepherd.com/best-books/southern-books

Claire Fullerton Author Of Mourning DoveBy Claire Fullerton

Who am I?

I’m the multiple, award-winning author of 4 novels and one novella, raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and now living in Southern California. The geographical distance gives me a laser-sharp, appreciative perspective of the South, and I celebrate the literary greats from the region. The South is known as the last romantic place in America, and I believe this to be true. The South’s culture, history, and social mores are part and parcel to its fascinating characters, and nothing is more important in the South than the telling of a good story. As a writer, I’m in love with language. I love Southern turns of phrase and applaud those writers who capture Southern nuance. It is well worth writing about Southern sensibilities.


I wrote…

Mourning Dove

By Claire Fullerton

Mourning Dove

What is my book about?

An accurate and heart-wrenching picture of the sensibilities of the American South. Millie and Finley Crossan move from Minnesota to their mother’s genteel world of 1970’s Memphis and learn to navigate the social mores of the Deep South, where all that glitters is not gold. Southern nuance, charismatic characters, a sibling relationship, and an opulent setting underlie this 13-time book award winner that asks how it is that two siblings who share the same history can turn out so differently. 

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The Books I Picked & Why

The Prince of Tides

By Pat Conroy

The Prince of Tides

Why this book?

A resounding Southern family saga. A sins-of-the-father story told in the first person by one of the South’s most revered authors. The Prince of Tides is set on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina and depicts the haunting secrets of the working class Wingo family in a multi-generational story rife with Southern nuance and now considered a literary classic. The story opens when narrator Tom Wingo flies from the South to New York to meet with his sister’s psychiatrist, and the astounding family saga unfolds from there. 


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Peachtree Road

By Anne Rivers Siddons

Peachtree Road

Why this book?

Peachtree Road is considered a modern-day Gone with The Wind, in that it is set in the pivotal, changing times of 1960’s Atlanta, and concerns the opulent area of Buckhead, where the privileged who built modern-day Atlanta live. The story is narrated in lyrical language by Shep Bondurant, an insightful young man born to privilege, who tells the coming-of-age story of Southern traditions and hypocrisy, and the impact of growing up alongside his troubled cousin, Lucy. A deeply probing story on multiple levels concerning society and the impact of family. 


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Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

By Ron Rash

Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories

Why this book?

Ron Rash is a national, literary treasure. The author of multiple award-winning novels, this book is an assembly of 34 short stories, most set in Appalachia, and depicting the social nuances and landscape of the American rural South. I recommend this because it will provide a great introduction to the incomparable author known as The Appalachian Shakespeare. As a writer, Ron Rash epitomizes the idea of landscape as destiny, and his well-drawn characters come to life from his flawless use of regional language. 


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All Over But the Shoutin’

By Rick Bragg

All Over But the Shoutin'

Why this book?

Pulitzer prize-winning and best-selling author Rick Bragg depicts hardscrabble, family life in rural Alabama, with a bad-tempered, hard-drinking father and a mother who won’t see her children go without. Bragg’s honest voice is immediate and compelling, and the visceral feel of the setting is the perfect backdrop for this rags to riches story of a man who triumphs over adversity to become a widely acclaimed writer. Bragg’s use of Southern vernacular is what makes this story. 


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The Fighter

By Michael Farris Smith

The Fighter

Why this book?

The Fighter is Southern noir at its best, and the spare, economic voice of the narrator adds to the guttural bleakness of a man down on his luck but willing to persevere against all odds. Set in the sultry Delta, Jack Boucher has put behind him 25 years of bare-knuckle fighting but is given cause to step into the ring one more time. A dark desperation colors this popular novel, and readers will be shown why Michael Farris Smith is considered one of the finest writers now on the American literary landscape.   


https://shepherd.com/best-books/southern-books