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Above All Men

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Above All Men Book Page - http://bit.ly/1fpryrQ Years from now, America is slowly collapsing. Crops are drying up and oil is running out. People flee cities for the countryside, worsening the drought and opening the land to crime. Amid this decay and strife, war veteran David Parrish fights to keep his family and farm together. However, the murder of a local child opens old Above All Men Book Page - http://bit.ly/1fpryrQ Years from now, America is slowly collapsing. Crops are drying up and oil is running out. People flee cities for the countryside, worsening the drought and opening the land to crime. Amid this decay and strife, war veteran David Parrish fights to keep his family and farm together. However, the murder of a local child opens old wounds, forcing him to confront his own nature on a hunt through dust storms and crumbling towns for the killer. “Shonkwiler takes the world on his own terms, and wrestles it to the ground.” –Tom Lutz, The Los Angeles Review of Books “Shonkwiler has taken an iconic landscape and filtered it through near-collapse and fear, then through loyalty and love.” –Susan Straight, National Book Award finalist “Sparse and poetic, the words within these pages are as sharp as a corn knife.” —Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook and Crimes in Southern Indiana “A rare, stark and beautiful achievement.” —Paula Bomer, author of Nine Months


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Above All Men Book Page - http://bit.ly/1fpryrQ Years from now, America is slowly collapsing. Crops are drying up and oil is running out. People flee cities for the countryside, worsening the drought and opening the land to crime. Amid this decay and strife, war veteran David Parrish fights to keep his family and farm together. However, the murder of a local child opens old Above All Men Book Page - http://bit.ly/1fpryrQ Years from now, America is slowly collapsing. Crops are drying up and oil is running out. People flee cities for the countryside, worsening the drought and opening the land to crime. Amid this decay and strife, war veteran David Parrish fights to keep his family and farm together. However, the murder of a local child opens old wounds, forcing him to confront his own nature on a hunt through dust storms and crumbling towns for the killer. “Shonkwiler takes the world on his own terms, and wrestles it to the ground.” –Tom Lutz, The Los Angeles Review of Books “Shonkwiler has taken an iconic landscape and filtered it through near-collapse and fear, then through loyalty and love.” –Susan Straight, National Book Award finalist “Sparse and poetic, the words within these pages are as sharp as a corn knife.” —Frank Bill, author of Donnybrook and Crimes in Southern Indiana “A rare, stark and beautiful achievement.” —Paula Bomer, author of Nine Months

30 review for Above All Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    karen

    i haven't read will mcintosh's Soft Apocalypse yet, but it is such a perfect description, i have to apply it to this book. as i understand it, it refers to the idea that our comfortable modern civilization will be destroyed slowly but steadily by the inevitable decline of resources and climate changes - an apocalypse caused by a winding down rather than a bang. and that's what this is - a world wound down. in a way, it is very similar to The Road. it's got that incredibly spare prose - short sent i haven't read will mcintosh's Soft Apocalypse yet, but it is such a perfect description, i have to apply it to this book. as i understand it, it refers to the idea that our comfortable modern civilization will be destroyed slowly but steadily by the inevitable decline of resources and climate changes - an apocalypse caused by a winding down rather than a bang. and that's what this is - a world wound down. in a way, it is very similar to The Road. it's got that incredibly spare prose - short sentences, small words, terse dialogue - that are usually indicative of a fast-paced book. but don't be fooled. if you treat this like a fast-paced book, you will miss out. shonkwiler has an extremely rare gift for economy of prose, and he can move more plot in three short sentences than most writers can in a full paragraph. my impulse was to read quickly, and i had to keep reining myself in to allow the quiet meditative story time to do its thing. also like The Road, this story is driven by the actions of david parrish, a man attempting to protect his son sam from the hard-and-getting-harder realities of the new america. which is noble, but protection might itself be a luxury, because it is a dangerous place to find yourself unprepared. in a conversation with his long-suffering wife helene (oh, yeah - no quotations marks. another mccarthy nod): You're so hellbent on protecting Sam from life and death and all these things in the future and you don't see that we're one step away from having nothing. She stopped. We have to come first. Sam has to come first. He does. He doesn't. Sam in twenty years does. You want him to have this perfect life you never had and it's already too late for it. He was never you to begin with, and this - She lifted her arms to the land around them. This land isn't even yours. You're not a farmer. It's not in your blood. It could be in Sam's. That's just what I'm working for. She shook her head. It starts somewhere. It could start with him. But this is all we have, right now. And we might not even have that for long. We might not get the time you asked for. That's what I'm trying to tell you. We have to feed Sam to adulthood before you can bequeath him anything. it's bleak and gritty and bloody and dusty. there is a constant sense of foreboding, and we are definitely within the moral structures of the western genre here. it's not quite the "anything goes" morality of the true apocalypse - check back in a few more years - but the social structures that were once in place to administer justice have eroded, and it can get a little biblical. parrish falls mostly on the antihero side. while he does countless good deeds for his remaining neighbors, including building a home for a newly arrived and struggling family on his own land, these impulses are driven by a self-inflicted penance of reparations for atrocities he committed in wartime. he endures flashbacks and violent impulses, which he stifles with work and alcohol, but when a violent crime hits too close to home, he allows those impulses to become actions. I've never had anything like this… The sheriff shook his head. Never in thirty-three years. He breathed deep. But I imagine you've seen worse. It's different. How's that? I've never seen hell and home at the same time. and hell followed with him… this is a definite recommend for people who like grit lit, westerns, aftermath stories, or lone justice-types. it's quietly horrific. come to my blog!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Review for Audio edition (narrated by Dane Elcar, published by Fiddleblack) Listened March 2015 3 Stars - Recommended to already-fans of audio books (Awesome 5 star story that just doesn't shine as sharply when narrated) Length: approx 8 hours Publisher: Fiddleblack Narrator: Dane Elcar Released: February 2015 Last January, I read Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men and though it was the first book I'd read that year, and I was barely a quarter of the way through it, I had already named it an early favori Review for Audio edition (narrated by Dane Elcar, published by Fiddleblack) Listened March 2015 3 Stars - Recommended to already-fans of audio books (Awesome 5 star story that just doesn't shine as sharply when narrated) Length: approx 8 hours Publisher: Fiddleblack Narrator: Dane Elcar Released: February 2015 Last January, I read Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men and though it was the first book I'd read that year, and I was barely a quarter of the way through it, I had already named it an early favorite of 2014. The writing was phenomenal. Shonkwiler's sparse prose moved patiently across the page, building tension as it went, as raw and cutting as the dust storms that plagued his characters in this "apocalyptic western" debut. Nothing I read in the following eleven months even came close. So you can imagine my hesitancy when I heard Fiddleblack was recording an audio version. I remember thinking that this could go very, very badly. Of course, there was an equal chance that it could go very, very well too, but I've always tended to be more of a pessimist with these sort of things. I am, admittedly, an extremely reluctant audio book listener. My weekend work commute, and my desire to "read" more books each year, eventually convinced me to give audio books a try. Some narrators - like Ron Perlman (City of Thieves), Will Patton (the Dennis Johnson books), and Wil Wheaton (Ready Player One) - blew me away instantly. It was their interpretation of the words they were reading, the way they managed to make those books their own. Their voices were smooth, clear, and easy to listen to. When they read, it no longer felt like words written on a page. To be honest, they could read the phone book out loud and I'd probably be sitting there, listening with bated breath. More commonly, though, I find quick fault with audio book narrators. I simply can NOT listen to English or British narrators. There's something about the accent, it distracts me and I just can't concentrate. Sometimes the narrator's natural reading voice irks me. Or their "female" voices sound phony and whiny, or flat and nasally. Or the narrator is a deep breather. If I can hear every intake of breath, I'm done. In the case of Dane Elcar's narration of Above All Men, I immediately struggled with his reading voice. I've recently listened to him conducting a podcast interview ( with Eric Shonkwiler, no shitting!) and I noticed that his speaking voice differs slightly from the one he uses when narrating. When reading, Dane has a very subtle uptick at the end of most of his sentences that I didn't notice when he was just shooting the shit. I quickly picked up on this and once I noticed it, I could not stop noticing it. In moments of wonder and excitement, and fear and tension, I also picked up on Dane's odd habit of shaking his voice and raising it into a loud whisper. I think that actually bothered me more than the questioning sound of his sentences. The voices he chose for the characters were different than what I had assigned them in my head when I first read the book, but we all struggle with that, don't we? When we watch our favorite books become movies? We boo the big screen when we see who was cast and think "no! no no no nooooo! They got it all wrong!" I know how this sounds. It sounds like I'm saying that Dane is a horrible narrator, and he's not. You have to understand that a big part of my overall struggle with the audio book comes from the fact that I had read the book first. I read the book, I had ALL THE FEELS with the book, and no narrator was ever going to do it justice. I had already made up my mind, without really be aware of that. I almost NEVER listen to a book I've read. I'll listen to the audio, or I'll read it, but I don't make a habit of doing both. Though the words on the page don't change, the feel of it does when the words are being handled by someone else. Somehow, sadly, Shonkwiler's prose lost its luster. Above All Men is just a book better read than listened to. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Review for the print edition: Totally calling this right now. my favorite book of 2014. Read 1/10/14 - 1/13/14 5 Stars - So Fucking Good / The Next Best Book 259 pages Publisher: MG Press Releases: March 2014 When I stop and think about all of the unread books I have stacked in my bookshelves and sitting in my Kindle (currently 674, according to my goodreads shelves), I start to panic at the thought of all the amazing books I'm missing out on and will continue to miss out on, even though they sit right here, right in this house, within a finger's reach. When I finish my current book, as I reach for the next one, I hesitate a moment and worry that I am not making the right decision. I wonder "what if THIS is not the book I should be reading right now? What if one of the six hundred OTHER books turns out to be THE book and I end up reading THIS book instead?" But there's really no way to know that, is there? Until you read the book you chose, and then read the next one, and read the one after that, and keep on reading until you finally end up reading one of THE ones. You'll know it's THE one because of the way it grabs you by the throat and slowly starts to choke all of the air out of you... before you reach the end of the first page. I've only experienced this reaction to a book three other times, that I can remember. First, when I started reading Jose Saramago's Blindness. Then, when I picked up Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Most recently, when I listened to the audio version of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. Interestingly enough, in all three cases, those were the first books I'd read by those authors. (What's even more interesting? Though I've read and enjoyed many of their other titles, none surpassed the visceral reactions I had to those firsts.) And now I can add Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men to that list. A book that's been in my e-possession since back in October. Just sitting. Waiting. Silent, as I chose book after book after book over it. Concealing its awesomeness until it finally made its way up to the top of the TBR pile. And as I started to read, every book I'd read before it simply... faded away. I was immediately sucked in. I felt Eric's words like a million little sucker punches. And I knew I was reading THE one. I don't think it's a coincidence that the intensity (I know that is not the right word, yet my words seem to have left me at the moment) I felt while reading Above All Men matched the intensity I had felt while reading Saramago, McCarthy, and Johnson. You can find elements of them within Shonkwiler's novel - a similar intentionally slow, meandering way of dragging the plot along, sticking to the specifics of the moment and letting the background work itself out without wasting much time or breath on it, keeping the reader on tenterhooks the entire time. Bathroom breaks? You can hold it, or bring a bucket out there with you. Work in the morning? Who needs sleep, go ahead and read straight through the night. Kindle battery dying? Plug that puppy in and sit against the wall to continue reading as it charges. Because Above All Men is a book you will not find yourself capable of walking away from. It's a bleak tale of the beginning of the end of the world. Of a family man who feels the weight of everyone's worries on his shoulders. Of this man who, regardless of consequence, is determined to make sure everyone is alright, even if it means hurting the ones he cares about most. It's a tale of survival as much as it is one of destruction. And Shonkwiler pulls it off effortlessly. It's a killer read. It does all of the things you want it to and some of the things you don't. And that's what makes it so powerful. That's what makes it THE one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Leah Angstman

    UPDATE 3/17/15: I first read this book as an ARC in January 2014. This is my fourth or fifth time reading it, and it is still as vibrant, surprising, and new as the first time I read it. Highly, highly recommended to fans of the "slowpocalypse," near-future, character-driven, dark, realistic dystopian fiction (or even those who are not, because I definitely am not, usually). Beautiful prose, gripping story, and an uneasiness that eats at you quietly. Still so, so good, the fourth time through. -- UPDATE 3/17/15: I first read this book as an ARC in January 2014. This is my fourth or fifth time reading it, and it is still as vibrant, surprising, and new as the first time I read it. Highly, highly recommended to fans of the "slowpocalypse," near-future, character-driven, dark, realistic dystopian fiction (or even those who are not, because I definitely am not, usually). Beautiful prose, gripping story, and an uneasiness that eats at you quietly. Still so, so good, the fourth time through. --------------------------- 1/21/14: First, the disclaimer: As an indie press editor, I received an ARC of this book from the publisher before I had ever heard of the author, with no promise or guarantee of a review. After I read it, I absolutely had to review it ( Los Angeles Review of Books ) because it is easily the most beautifully written book I’ve read in a decade. I have since met the author in-person at his AWP book launch, but ONLY because I sought him out based solely on the merit of this book and how deeply the poetic language affected me, and affects me still, months after I first read it. The book takes place in a post-collapse near-future rural America. I am loath to say “apocalyptic” because of the fantastical images that conjures, but this is more the style of apocalypse we may realistically be heading toward: oil and food shortages, electronic communication breakdowns, a government overstretched and under-resourced, misinformed people moving inland from the coasts thinking there are jobs and food to be had in the rural areas. All this amidst global-warming’s skill at turning Mother Nature into a beast, and you’ve got Steinbeckian dust storms, tornado-tinted skies, and endless droughts wreaking havoc and killing cattle and crops. Within this world, a struggling war-veteran farmer with PTSD fights to keep his family together and to solve the murder of a local child with his wounded and gray ideals of justice, triggering war-trauma hallucinations and a trek for a childkiller that’s akin to the vigilante lawlessness of the Wild West. What matters most on these pages, however, is Shonkwiler’s incredible grasp on language. He weaves rare, vibrant yet subtle, poetry into nearly every line, so that you could break any random paragraph down into verse that is unforgettable. His visuals are arresting and heavy, full-bodied and clearly thought-out. The bare, stripped writing appears to trick you into thinking it is sparse or simple, when indeed it is complex and thick and powerful. His words are a landscape as rich as the painful landscape that fuels this story. The book is at once dark and beautiful, and so few writers can capture that juxtaposition with the finesse of Shonkwiler’s well-placed, careful, experienced lines. He writes like a storyteller who’s been doing this for decades, and it blows my mind that this is a debut novel. I won’t lie that it is an uncomfortable read. It’s filled with troubles and turmoil, with only airy slices of reprieve now and again. But it is a necessary read. One that will stay with you and seed inside you. One that will shake you awake. One that will throw you outside your comfort zone and shatter your complacency. One that will make you look at every sunset, every rural landscape, in a new light that cannot possibly leave you unaffected. Above All Men is especially highly recommended for fans of Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, William Gay, Marilynne Robinson, James Agee, Edward P. Jones, John Steinbeck, or other writers similar to those styles.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steph Post

    A feeling of desperation permeates the pages of Above All Men and from the first word to the last, the reader can sense this knife's edge looming over the fate of the characters. David, though haunted by memories of a previous war that he and his best friend lost their innocence to, is willing to go to dangerous and violent lengths to protect his family. Yet he is a conflicted man, a post-modern cowboy who stoically sits his horse against the sunset, while inwardly battling the demons of PTSD. W A feeling of desperation permeates the pages of Above All Men and from the first word to the last, the reader can sense this knife's edge looming over the fate of the characters. David, though haunted by memories of a previous war that he and his best friend lost their innocence to, is willing to go to dangerous and violent lengths to protect his family. Yet he is a conflicted man, a post-modern cowboy who stoically sits his horse against the sunset, while inwardly battling the demons of PTSD. When a neighbor's little girl is murdered, David assumes the role of vigilante and begins the nightmarish stalking of surrounding towns as he searches blindly for the killer. The vision of David, riding his dust-drenched horse through abandoned towns, calls to mind the iconic image of Rick Grimes entering the city of Atlanta, though David has more to fear than just the walking dead. His righteous pursuit of the murderer opens old wounds in his psyche and puts the one thing he loves the most- his family- at risk. Yet despite the harrowing setting and plot, there are glimpses of hope peeking through like rays of light through dust-choked weatherboards. David's resilience, and that of his wife and son, remind us of the strength of human will and the primal instincts of loyalty and love. Above All Men is not a Hollywood disaster flick- it won't leave you with a feel good embrace when the credits start to roll- but it does elicit a powerful feeling of the potential of the individual to survive against all odds. In short, a killer read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This book was a challenging read and took a long time to get through, but it was worth it. I'm not sure whether anyone else has really captured this concept of the "Slowpocalypse" - a deterioration of society that happens incrementally, the result of an environmental and societal collapse, rather than zombies or bombs or bioterrorism or some killer virus - and the story picks up on the middle of that deterioration. The characters are aware of it, of the collapse, but the reader also notices that This book was a challenging read and took a long time to get through, but it was worth it. I'm not sure whether anyone else has really captured this concept of the "Slowpocalypse" - a deterioration of society that happens incrementally, the result of an environmental and societal collapse, rather than zombies or bombs or bioterrorism or some killer virus - and the story picks up on the middle of that deterioration. The characters are aware of it, of the collapse, but the reader also notices that things feel both familiar and foreign, which makes the book more eerie than anything else. And also probably more prophetic. In the end, the book is simply so thought provoking that it was worth the effort of reading it. Sadly, I can't seem to find more people who have read it to discuss its themes with them. But I would strongly encourage anyone interested in the sort of dystopian genre to read it. There's a lot here. Even his treatment of the familiar "mother" type(s) is different.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David

    How would I describe this book? "Grapes of Wrath" reimagined through the lens of "The Road." The voice is plainspokenly honest like the Steinbeck classic, but takes you darker places than the struggles through which humans have already been. We get to see how a very real seeming man tries to move forward for his family while torn between the world it is and the world he can't stop wishing it was. Stark, sparse, and honest, pay attention. This may be a dystopian future...but it's a little too clo How would I describe this book? "Grapes of Wrath" reimagined through the lens of "The Road." The voice is plainspokenly honest like the Steinbeck classic, but takes you darker places than the struggles through which humans have already been. We get to see how a very real seeming man tries to move forward for his family while torn between the world it is and the world he can't stop wishing it was. Stark, sparse, and honest, pay attention. This may be a dystopian future...but it's a little too close for comfort so you might want to start thinking about it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Frau Sorge (Yuki)

    I won the copy of this book in The Next Best Book Club giveaway thanks to amazing Leah Angstman (she told me about TNBBC giveaway and I love her). Review to come, I'll be rereading the book before discussion. I won the copy of this book in The Next Best Book Club giveaway thanks to amazing Leah Angstman (she told me about TNBBC giveaway and I love her). Review to come, I'll be rereading the book before discussion.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Brown

    I don't usually review the books I read, but when I do it's a book as good as Eric Shonkwiler's ABOVE ALL MEN. There is a lot of comparing done these days of writers to Cormac McCarthy, and I find most such comparisons unmerited, to be honest. Not in this case. Rarely does a writer achieve heights that seem almost superhuman, that stun me because they're just so damn good. Eric Shonkwiler does that, and does it with vicious restraint. I will not give you a synopsis; I will give you a passage: "An I don't usually review the books I read, but when I do it's a book as good as Eric Shonkwiler's ABOVE ALL MEN. There is a lot of comparing done these days of writers to Cormac McCarthy, and I find most such comparisons unmerited, to be honest. Not in this case. Rarely does a writer achieve heights that seem almost superhuman, that stun me because they're just so damn good. Eric Shonkwiler does that, and does it with vicious restraint. I will not give you a synopsis; I will give you a passage: "Another bolt of lightning wired down and brightened, disappeared and flickered back. The sky and ground darkened and in the cloud were seams and wrinkles of cobalt that glowed as if the whole thunderhead were alight. The air shook. David took Samuel by the collar and guided him indoors. From inside they could only see the green air bright as neon. The wind bent the trees and the house creaked. Samuel went to look out the window in their bedroom and David followed, Helene behind him, and they watched a black cloud the shape of a slug twist down from the sky and a plume of dust rise to meet it." I mean, Jesus Christ people. Now combine that with dialogue like this: He breathed in and stabbed the fork into the meatloaf, let it stand. Why don't you stick around for the day? They said this guy moves around a lot. Danver's face pinched. You're giving me gray hairs. You're bald. You're givin' someone gray hairs. Probably myself. I haven't looked in the mirror lately. Maybe you should. The family dynamics are handled exceptionally well, as is the inner strife of the main character, and the images of a dust-ridden Midwest are not to be missed. ABOVE ALL MEN has my highest recommendation. I can't wait to see what Shonkwiler does next.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 5* of five Review TK.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Janbergs

    It's hard to believe this intense, gritty, dark book was written by such a young author. The imagery is spot on, and the characters, while not particularly likeable, are real people. The action is slow to build, but by the last quarter Above All Men grabs you by the shirt front and pulls you along until the grim - yet hopeful - conclusion. Full disclosure: Eric Shonkwiler went to school with and is a friend of my daughter, which is why I bought this book. I expected it to be reasonably well-writt It's hard to believe this intense, gritty, dark book was written by such a young author. The imagery is spot on, and the characters, while not particularly likeable, are real people. The action is slow to build, but by the last quarter Above All Men grabs you by the shirt front and pulls you along until the grim - yet hopeful - conclusion. Full disclosure: Eric Shonkwiler went to school with and is a friend of my daughter, which is why I bought this book. I expected it to be reasonably well-written, given Eric's credentials and the speech he gave when he officiated at my daughter's wedding. I was actually blown away by the sophisticated, mature treatment of a bleak future where natural disaster, war, and government breakdown are pushing rural America into a new paradigm of community and independence. Eric writes evocatively about things he should not have any experience of: parenthood, killing, another Dust Bowl, war. It's not a feel-good story, but definitely worth reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    At first the fact that I went to a reading that this author gave distracted me from the story--it is the ultimate of someone recommending a book and then you spend the whole time that you reading it wondering why that person thought you'd like it so much. But, frankly, the story drew me in so much that I had forgotten all about the author by the time I was 1/3 of the way into the book. The setting--in the future, when the world as we know it is coming apart at the seams due to climate change--wa At first the fact that I went to a reading that this author gave distracted me from the story--it is the ultimate of someone recommending a book and then you spend the whole time that you reading it wondering why that person thought you'd like it so much. But, frankly, the story drew me in so much that I had forgotten all about the author by the time I was 1/3 of the way into the book. The setting--in the future, when the world as we know it is coming apart at the seams due to climate change--was very intriguing, and the characters' efforts to deal with their lives were utterly believable. The plot takes a turn that had me reading as fast as I could at the end. I was relieved to see that, though society is crumbling, the goodness of people--most people--manages to survive.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Noel Mariano

    I love the grittiness of the text. I have to say that the book was so good, I was able to barter it for a stuffed goat head from the local taxidermist here. He loved the book so much that he bought a copy that he keeps in his shop and the one I bartered with him he keeps at his home. There's so much to enjoy from the text from the dire strength of the characters to the fact that when I read it, I felt this discomfort in the back of my neck that only comes from when things really sink into my sub I love the grittiness of the text. I have to say that the book was so good, I was able to barter it for a stuffed goat head from the local taxidermist here. He loved the book so much that he bought a copy that he keeps in his shop and the one I bartered with him he keeps at his home. There's so much to enjoy from the text from the dire strength of the characters to the fact that when I read it, I felt this discomfort in the back of my neck that only comes from when things really sink into my subconscious.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    "For a moment he knew Samuel's heart and knew its trajectory, like a star loose from constellation." (224) Beautiful. "For a moment he knew Samuel's heart and knew its trajectory, like a star loose from constellation." (224) Beautiful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kandi

    Stunning and well written - I couldn't put it down! I think this was an amazing read. Such talent this author has - I was blown away on so many levels. This has definitely been a novel that I had to sit back and think about after the last page. A couple of days later, I'm still in the "wow" stage and can't get it off my mind. I'll now try my hand at a review, tho, because I'd really like to recommend that others give it a read. "Above All Men" takes place in an unspecified time, in an unspecified Stunning and well written - I couldn't put it down! I think this was an amazing read. Such talent this author has - I was blown away on so many levels. This has definitely been a novel that I had to sit back and think about after the last page. A couple of days later, I'm still in the "wow" stage and can't get it off my mind. I'll now try my hand at a review, tho, because I'd really like to recommend that others give it a read. "Above All Men" takes place in an unspecified time, in an unspecified location, in a small town that supports farming and ranching around it's outskirts. It opens with the main character, David Parrish, who is a war veteran and suffers from PTSD. He's a husband, a father and a bit of a loner but still very much valued in his community as a stand-up guy - one who can be counted on should you ever need him. The author meanders thru the days of this man, David, who farms and graze his cattle on land entrusted to him by a family friend. As he, his family and neighbors try to adjust to the loss and shortage of goods and services, it appears that it is due to climate change. The area is suffering from drought, electricity is sporadic, roads are falling apart, communication to the outside world is scarce and there is a severe gas and oil shortage. Still, life goes on. Neighbors pitch in and share their resources, relationships are strained, loved ones die, parents parent their children, the town and its people work to maintain normalcy during it all. A wealthy man is seeking to buy up all the property so that he can mine it while farmers who are suffering from lack of money begin to struggle to get by. Crops aren't growing, cattle and farm animals are dying and David tries to do his best thru every dilemna, figuring out solutions to everyone's problems as he suffers from nightmares and headaches - he just can't stop or put to rest the memories of war and violence. The author tells this tale in a quiet voice which holds behind it huge emotions. Every chapter evolves as conditions of the environment worsen. The story holds small clues as to the nature of what is happening, but the "why" is never discussed. The characters just go thru each struggle trying cope with each new change. The story is gritty, it is raw, it is sorrowful, it is authentic. It is, in my opinion, a novel that must get world wide attention - not just because it's such an amazing story and not just because the author is so very talented. This novel carries an important message. "Above All Men" holds up a "caution" sign for all of us to heed - our culture, our policies, our future are at stake.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sandie

    Life is different in America after the wars. Infrastructures fell and were not able to be replaced. For example, when a hurricane knocks out oil refineries there is no more gasoline after what is available is used up. The country reverts to life as it was a hundred years ago, in the 1930's, a more rural, slow life. David Parrish is a war veteran who has returned home. He tries to maintain a family life with his wife Helene and their son, Samuel. It eats at him that Samuel, who is very bright, w Life is different in America after the wars. Infrastructures fell and were not able to be replaced. For example, when a hurricane knocks out oil refineries there is no more gasoline after what is available is used up. The country reverts to life as it was a hundred years ago, in the 1930's, a more rural, slow life. David Parrish is a war veteran who has returned home. He tries to maintain a family life with his wife Helene and their son, Samuel. It eats at him that Samuel, who is very bright, will never know life as he did, with all the technological advances that brought the world to anyone's doorstep. Instead, they farm as best they can, rediscovering the old methods of intensive farming that used to be the norm. There are rumors about scavengers who roam aimlessly, trying to steal what they can regardless of who it belongs to. David does what he can to help those around him. This sometimes creates tension with Helene, but it is the only way he knows to live. If someone needs help with a roof or fields, David is there. He takes in a family to help on the farm, who were in danger of starvation, and finds a true friend in the father. Then, everything changes. A child in the community is murdered, gunned down for no reason. People draw back into their own enclaves, fearful of those around them. David is determined to discover who would do such a horrendous act, and bring those responsible to justice. Eric Shonkwiler received his MFA from The University of California Riverside. His work has appeared in publications such as The Los Angles Review Of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack Magazine and Midwestern Gothic. This is his debut novel and the writing is so strong and clear that its power cannot be denied. The book questions what a man should do to save his family, and how far we should go to be good neighbors. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and is a strong contender for the best book I've read this year. Eric Shonkiwiler is an author to watch.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    A book that I really liked yet also really didn't. With that said, you should know that this is the most artistic, expressionistic piece of writing I've read this year. The majority of the criticisms here are directed at the characters and not the author. As a first novel, Above All Men is fantastic, superb, beautifully and artistically written. Shonkwiler employs the iconic no-quotation approach of Cormac McCarthy (and Faulkner). Some might find this style of writing confusing, but, if done rig A book that I really liked yet also really didn't. With that said, you should know that this is the most artistic, expressionistic piece of writing I've read this year. The majority of the criticisms here are directed at the characters and not the author. As a first novel, Above All Men is fantastic, superb, beautifully and artistically written. Shonkwiler employs the iconic no-quotation approach of Cormac McCarthy (and Faulkner). Some might find this style of writing confusing, but, if done right, it won't. And Shonkwiler does it right. As soon as you train your brain to stop looking for quotation marks and to start listening to the text, you really don't miss them. So, stylistically, I think Above All Men is a gem. I would even give it five stars for that alone. The characters, on the other hand, are a bit horrendous. The women are talking bedposts. Who are they: two wives, one mother, one daughter, and one whore. They exist only within their stereotypical roles and to stand in contrast to David. Women in this futuristic, slow-pocalpyse society have the same employment possibilities as the 18th century: homemaker, school teacher, and prostitute. As if women's suffrage never happened. My least favorite female character? David's wife. A spiteful, temperamental character who doesn't develop despite all the changes going on in the family. The male characters are not much better. They are trapped within their gender specific roles as much as the women are. Protect the family. Work hard. Don't talk about those emotions. It's a cruel world for both genders. Characters earn Above All Men three stars. In summary: Shonkwiler really shows his skills as a writer. And he has skills to beat the band. But David ain't no friend of mine.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aline Ohanesian

    This stark and compelling literary debut is set in an apocalyptic Midwest, where water and oil are scarce. The plot revolves around a war veteran fighting to keep his family safe, while confronting the dark side of his own nature as he hunts for a child killer. It's a beautifully crafted tale and Shonkwiler's writing style is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's specifically in Blood Meridian. A literary cowboy thriller of the highest order. This stark and compelling literary debut is set in an apocalyptic Midwest, where water and oil are scarce. The plot revolves around a war veteran fighting to keep his family safe, while confronting the dark side of his own nature as he hunts for a child killer. It's a beautifully crafted tale and Shonkwiler's writing style is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's specifically in Blood Meridian. A literary cowboy thriller of the highest order.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve Essick

    As a young man David Parrish goes to war to try to save a world he little understands. Haunted by the ravages of battle, David returns to the blighted heartland of the country he fought to save only to discover that the battle rages on - only now to save his farm and family. "Above All Men" is a lyrical tale of survival in the not to distant future. A riveting novel , beautifully told. Not to be missed! As a young man David Parrish goes to war to try to save a world he little understands. Haunted by the ravages of battle, David returns to the blighted heartland of the country he fought to save only to discover that the battle rages on - only now to save his farm and family. "Above All Men" is a lyrical tale of survival in the not to distant future. A riveting novel , beautifully told. Not to be missed!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Scott Wilson

    This book made me want to grab the family, load up the chickens and the dog, and head back to the mountains I grew up in. The author did an amazing job inserting the reader into a very plausible and personal story of struggle. Steinbeck meets McCarthy. Parts weighed heavily on my heart, and other passages were poignantly hopeful. One of the best books I've read. This book made me want to grab the family, load up the chickens and the dog, and head back to the mountains I grew up in. The author did an amazing job inserting the reader into a very plausible and personal story of struggle. Steinbeck meets McCarthy. Parts weighed heavily on my heart, and other passages were poignantly hopeful. One of the best books I've read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve Karas

    Great, moving book. Each time I took a break from it, it stayed in my bones, hung in the back of my mind. Everything about it was so well-crafted: the characters, plot, setting, prose. I admire Shonkwiler's patience, never in a rush to make the story unfold, to me, the mark of a genuine talent in total command. Great, moving book. Each time I took a break from it, it stayed in my bones, hung in the back of my mind. Everything about it was so well-crafted: the characters, plot, setting, prose. I admire Shonkwiler's patience, never in a rush to make the story unfold, to me, the mark of a genuine talent in total command.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Woogie! Kristin!

    FANTASTIC read! The build up is perfect, much like the horses gait featured throughout the novel. The end is a fast paced gallop and kept me guessing about the outcome the entire time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paula Hess

    Intense take on apocalypse in rural America in the not too distance future. Severe droughts, oil and fuel shortages. No jobs.. maybe closer than we think. Look forward to the authors next book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men is a surprisingly strong effort for a young writer. His first novel, it is set in the Midwest of the United States in an unspecified future time. It traces the struggles of David Parrish as the country—and presumably the world—is in a state of slow, measured collapse. The cause is not apparently cataclysmic (nothing like Cormac McCarthy’s world in The Road) but rather a combination of political ineptitude, war and irreversible climate change. What is striking about Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men is a surprisingly strong effort for a young writer. His first novel, it is set in the Midwest of the United States in an unspecified future time. It traces the struggles of David Parrish as the country—and presumably the world—is in a state of slow, measured collapse. The cause is not apparently cataclysmic (nothing like Cormac McCarthy’s world in The Road) but rather a combination of political ineptitude, war and irreversible climate change. What is striking about the work is the author’s success in sustaining an atmosphere of foreboding and decay. By mid-point in the story, the reader is fully engaged in Parrish’s efforts to survive in a hostile environment, protecting his family and friends against an advancing entropy. The language also—while often dense—is artful. Shonkwiler cites Hemingway as one of his muses, and his linguistic economy, much like much of Hemingway, is charged with complex meaning. That weighted economy reminds me of a more contemporary writer, Cynan Jones. What I find less successful in the novel is a lack of depth in many of his characters. While David Parrish emerges in satisfactory complexity, he is almost alone. Parrish’s wife and son are closer to stereotypes as are the other, secondary characters who surround David. It is that lack of depth that makes the final resolution in the novel a bit unsettling. Still, the work is mature, a harbinger of an author of extraordinary talent.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sheldon Compton

    Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men (available now from MG Press) is a novel set in the not-too-distant future after a war I generally assumed to be inspired by the war for oil we are currently trying to live through. This future is only a few decades from the present day and Shonkwiler does a good job of not overstepping while making that future not drastically different than today. For example, the lack of television as a luxury is one that comes up both overtly and then also in an implied way for Eric Shonkwiler’s Above All Men (available now from MG Press) is a novel set in the not-too-distant future after a war I generally assumed to be inspired by the war for oil we are currently trying to live through. This future is only a few decades from the present day and Shonkwiler does a good job of not overstepping while making that future not drastically different than today. For example, the lack of television as a luxury is one that comes up both overtly and then also in an implied way for me at least in that the family is often reading during their leisure time. This is the beginning of Shonkwiler’s magical ability to transport with a deft hand. There’s so much more. Above_All_Men_Cover For the most part, the world of Above All Men is one where people are placed again in the position of making a living by the strength of their two hands. For the protagonist, David Parrish, this means rising above the horrors of the war he fought in and becoming a good husband and father despite this past. He must also deal with a local coal miner (as this has become the primary energy source) who wants to buy his land for mining and give him a job working for him. But key in this novel, and when it happens at about midpoint it is a gutshot, is the murder of a child. Already struggling, David finds old demons resurfacing as he hunts for the murderer, seeking some kind of justice when justice itself seems to have become the scarcest resource of all. There is so much to like and enjoy about this debut novel by Skonkwiler, a native of Ohio who has lived and worked all across the country and has now settled for the time being in New Mexico. I immediately appreciated the sparse, direct prose. Shonkwiler isn’t trying to impress anyone, though he does in many poetic instances. I felt during the entirety of the book that I was being told a story by someone who held narrative most important. There are influences stylistically, for sure. The lack of quotation marks to offset dialogue is, I believe, likely an homage or adopted fingerprint from one of Shonkwiler’s literary heroes, Cormac McCarthy. But, of course, there’s nothing wrong this, especially when you do it as well or better than your hero. More on that later. One of many things that struck me as being so well done in this novel was that of character. When those moments of dialogue appear without fanfare I was never once at a loss for who was talking. This may seem like nothing to celebrate in and of itself, but anyone working in the trade of writing novels will tell you, when you know a character by the words he says, the writer is doing a damn fine job in respect to bringing that character alive on the page. There were characters I would have liked more of in the novel – primarily that of Red, David’s longtime friend who joined the military with him when they were younger and is in the novel briefly at the beginning, but also, the old man Danver, who helped David get his piece of land in the world. But the characters he decided to give us in the book are as realized as anything you’d want in a novel. David made me want to work harder, be a better man. My heart broke sometimes for his wife Helene, while other times I wanted her to ease up and let good old David (that complex bastard) be good-hearted to a fault. And O H, David’s good friend, and pretty much about my favorite secondary character, just could not have been better crafted. The immensely likable O H reminded me to be a more honest person and also how a heart could break in ways yet imagined or endured. But where Shonkwiler shined brightest was as a stylist. And it took me awhile to finally decide on which front he shined brightest. Was it setting? Highly possible, as the Midwest, the land, the people of that land, were all placed expertly into a fiction this reader bought into immediately and throughout. Was it plot? So close it was scary, since this not-to-distant future is not at all hard to imagine, which makes every single action that takes place that much more dramatic. This could happen, you know? This could really happen soon. Damn. But, I had to go with style for Above All Men. For a moment I’m going to let Mr. Shonkwiler speak for himself. “They both got out. Red lifted his hand in goodbye and went to the road and David stood by the barn. Danvers’ house was quiet. He walked on to the equipment barn for the loader and threw a few bales of hay from the loft on the scoop. A couple hundred yards into the pasture he set the bales and stock panels up, the cattle already loping toward him. Wheeling the loader around he watched the pasture roll by, saw the town beyond it. On the other side of town a cell tower stood rusting. Years ago he would have seen the red light brighten and fade. The phone company had cut the power to local towers and never restored it, never sent another bill. Most everyone around switched back to landlines.” I once had a conversation with a writer who said they read somewhere the hardest part of writing was getting a character from one side of the room to the other. I’ve since learned this is so foolishly true. Now, consider the above excerpt. In lesser hands this entire series of events could drop the reader into an instant scan-reading mode. I’ve did it, you’ve did it. We will scan the hell out of pedestrian prose, fattened paragraphs that aren’t’ really moving the story along. Not here, people. Not by a long shot. And all this while dropping those subtle details that build up the setting and time period, that rusting cell tower and how “everyone around switched back to landlines.” You honestly can’t ask for better storytelling. And here’s the main thing: I can’t place my finger on exactly how Skonkwiler managed to do this so well across the span of an entire novel, but that’s what I was left with – the idea that this young man was in command stylistically in a way I hadn’t encountered since first reading James Salter. Basically, and this is just flat out truth, I simply cannot imagine a better result for a debut novel. Shonkwiler’s still in the midst of his tour to promote this book and I’m already scanning MG Press’s website for his next title. Come on, Eric, come back from the road and write. We’re waiting, bud.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Awad

    Above All Men is both a cautionary tale and a mirror – its apocalyptic landscape brought on by climate change isn't that far from the one I could ostensibly see outside my window or on the news. Bridging that space between where we are and where we are certainly headed does wonders for kicking up existential dread in the reader in a way I haven't truly experienced since House of Leaves (why should a house that grows and shrinks be that frightening, anyway?). It's masterful the way Shonkwiler pla Above All Men is both a cautionary tale and a mirror – its apocalyptic landscape brought on by climate change isn't that far from the one I could ostensibly see outside my window or on the news. Bridging that space between where we are and where we are certainly headed does wonders for kicking up existential dread in the reader in a way I haven't truly experienced since House of Leaves (why should a house that grows and shrinks be that frightening, anyway?). It's masterful the way Shonkwiler plays with our sense of reality, shifting the ground beneath our feet just enough to make us question if it was there to begin with. Against the backdrop of drought and despair and certain doom of our own making, we have a family trying to survive and finding it worthwhile if only because they still have each other and their community (what remains of it). It asks readers: what makes you want to survive? It argues that we owe each other a debt to make our world livable. Maybe even good, if we can swing it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emmett Chase

    5 stars as a first book. Other reviewers have mentioned that the writing style is borrowed directly from Cormac McCarthy and it can be distracting but once you can keep that loose nugget from rattling around in your head this book shines like gold. The writing is economical and reads fast and you feel like you are reading a day to day description of David's life. From the first page to the last, you wonder where in the world the writer is taking you, which is a good thing. So many books are predi 5 stars as a first book. Other reviewers have mentioned that the writing style is borrowed directly from Cormac McCarthy and it can be distracting but once you can keep that loose nugget from rattling around in your head this book shines like gold. The writing is economical and reads fast and you feel like you are reading a day to day description of David's life. From the first page to the last, you wonder where in the world the writer is taking you, which is a good thing. So many books are predictable but not this one. And in the meantime you are piecing together these characters and their relationships and watch as society slowly crumbles around them. I've heard this is a young writer and his first book. Some people are better at stringing words together than others but it seems like some writers are only as good as the life they grew up in and the people they have lived around. I hope Eric has much more left in the well and I look forward to another book from him. Not to open the floor for spoilers but I wish a little more explanation regarding the motive of the murder would have been given. I could have missed a clue but maybe that is what sequels are for.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I received this book as part of a giveaway for the August 2014 author reader discussion in The Next Best Book Club. I really enjoyed this book. Eric has created a book that looks at difficult but interesting themes including climate change and post-tramatic stress syndrome. I think one of the best things he accomplishes with this book is the character development. The characters are real people, flawed and trying to make the best of what they can in a desolate time and place. There are challenges I received this book as part of a giveaway for the August 2014 author reader discussion in The Next Best Book Club. I really enjoyed this book. Eric has created a book that looks at difficult but interesting themes including climate change and post-tramatic stress syndrome. I think one of the best things he accomplishes with this book is the character development. The characters are real people, flawed and trying to make the best of what they can in a desolate time and place. There are challenges that each character faces and just when you think things might turn around, a new difficulty arises. Every word contributes to creating this world that is really just about surviving as best as each person can. I recommend this book to anyone interested in a bit of a dystopian world who enjoys strong character development and challenging topics.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hosho

    A patient, subtle, and deeply moral read, Shonkwiler's ABOVE ALL MEN gets the obvious Cormac McCarthy comparisons -- and deservedly so -- but for my money it has much more in common with John Steinbeck's moral fiction. Call it a dystopian new western, wrought in glinting, polished-edge, poetic lines...one where the simple struggle of daily survival turns from desperate agricultural procedural to existential ritual, and the already blurry fringe of right and wrong fade further away in a world who A patient, subtle, and deeply moral read, Shonkwiler's ABOVE ALL MEN gets the obvious Cormac McCarthy comparisons -- and deservedly so -- but for my money it has much more in common with John Steinbeck's moral fiction. Call it a dystopian new western, wrought in glinting, polished-edge, poetic lines...one where the simple struggle of daily survival turns from desperate agricultural procedural to existential ritual, and the already blurry fringe of right and wrong fade further away in a world wholly unrecognizable to itself. ABOVE ALL MEN wants to know at what point good and evil become one...and who should shepherd justice through a selfish and lawlessness dawn. A granite-solid first novel that is unafraid of ambiguity, and one that asks profoundly human questions.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Al Sevcik

    If it were possible I would award this book six stars instead of five. The setting is in farm country sometime after the nation’s oil supply has peaked and diminished. The land yields a bare living with the greatest difficulty. The protagonist is a tough man with a tough past. A good man who is his own worst enemy. The writing is masterful. The descriptive details are right on. The dialog is so real that it pulls the reader into the scene. The characters seem true. If you are looking for a story If it were possible I would award this book six stars instead of five. The setting is in farm country sometime after the nation’s oil supply has peaked and diminished. The land yields a bare living with the greatest difficulty. The protagonist is a tough man with a tough past. A good man who is his own worst enemy. The writing is masterful. The descriptive details are right on. The dialog is so real that it pulls the reader into the scene. The characters seem true. If you are looking for a story where everything turns out sweet and nice at the end, this isn’t for you. But if you appreciate realism expertly presented you are in for a great read

  30. 5 out of 5

    Angel

    I knew that I would like this book based on a trusted source's glowing review. I did have trouble with the absence of quotation marks, but it could be because I read electronically and tend to make the print larger (I walk and read at the same time). The book reminded me a good bit of The Road, but at least with SOME happy bits (talk about the saddest book EVER), and definitely, Larry McMurtry. I am looking forward to more by this author. I knew that I would like this book based on a trusted source's glowing review. I did have trouble with the absence of quotation marks, but it could be because I read electronically and tend to make the print larger (I walk and read at the same time). The book reminded me a good bit of The Road, but at least with SOME happy bits (talk about the saddest book EVER), and definitely, Larry McMurtry. I am looking forward to more by this author.

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