Book Review: Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

This book should be required reading for parents, musicians, romantics– anyone who is looking for a heartfelt retelling of the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.  It begins with Cooper O’Connor, who returns to his mountain home in Colorado after years of estrangement from his preacher, musician father who dies before Cooper returns.  The story of Cooper, the child prodigy who rebels against his father, seeks the limelight, money, and a new life in Nashville follows the basic fall and redemption storyline, but it feels new and totally engaging because the characters are so familiar and real.  With the introduction of Daley, Cooper’s partner, love interest, and savior, we get the full story of how one person can indeed make a dramatic difference in a person’s life.  The story works because it is both familiar, yet unpredictable, especially at the end.

While musicians may enjoy all of the guitar references and musical advice about how music is a gift that we give away, I was more intrigued by the redemptive parts.  In one way or another, we all fall short of what we imagined we might be and often disappoint those who have loved us the most.  The fact that Cooper’s father spends his entire life longing for his son’s return is absolutely heartbreaking.  We later learn that it was, in fact, Cooper’s father who saves Cooper’s life by carrying him out of a fire.  However, his father dies of the injuries from that rescue.  This is yet another poignant twist where the father saves the son a second time.  In fact, the father is both the cause of Cooper’s angry outburst early in the story and the savior later on in the tale.  Perhaps the idea of a savior is the most important part of this story because Martin lines up an entire array of people who have helped Cooper in one way or another, saving him from starvation, homelessness, or death.  It seems to me, that Martin, in his re-telling the parable is making us see how it manifests in the lives of ordinary people like Big-Big, his preacher father, Daley, and others who fill the story with the powerful voice of redemption.  Forgiveness is also part of the tale, but it is a bitter journey all the same.

Charles Martin has written a beautiful story with a resounding message.  No one is too far gone to be saved from anything, no matter how awful they perceive their actions to be.  We are, after all, hopelessly flawed.  The novel, like the parable, suggests that we can save each other by simple, everyday compassion. After all, “…no gone is too far gone.”

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