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The Bully of Order: A Novel by Brian Hart

The Bully of Order: A Novel

by Brian Hart

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Hart has been compared to Cormac McCarthy and that seems apt in many ways but not in all. The character Duncan, son of Jacob, seems to me the anti-Hamlet in many ways. ( )
  TDWolsey | Dec 8, 2016 |
There were facets of this book that I really enjoyed, such as the way the plot developed at a slow, even pace allowing the reader to get a full and in depth understanding of the characters, and elements that led to the story's climax. There was the use of colorful, descriptive language used throughout the book that added historical content and realism. The way the editor allowed the author to express his every emotion through word and paint a virtual picture of each scene.

On the reverse side, I really hated the way the plot developed at such a slow pace using paragraph after paragraph of character narrative to explain their current status. It often had me hoping that the next epage would bring an end to the chapter and move the plot along. I did not enjoy the way this author inserted every colloquialism and bit of slang from the era that he could dredge up, often leaving me wondering what the hell he was talking about. Finally,I did not like the way that the editor allowed the author to ramble through almost four hundred pages to complete a story that could have been amply stated in two hundred and fifty, thank you very much.

This is a period piece reminiscent, unfortunately, of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. If you liked The Luminaries, you should love this novel by Brian Hart. Detailed; violent without being overly graphic; colorful and authentic (again, I can only assume). The Bully of Order is a mini version of The Luminaries without the mystery. ( )
  baggman | Feb 11, 2016 |
Let me start by saying this was a very interesting novel giving you an honest look at life in a logging town at the height of the industry. Hart shared with us the raw and primal lives of the people of this community as they lived day to day. With that being said, I need to warn you that this book is definitely not for the faint-hearted. But if you are looking for an honest glimpse into this piece of history, then this novel is for you.

There are a lot of characters in the book and different chapters offer narrations for several characters. I was impressed with Hart's ability to introduce new characters to us, because even though they have similar needs within the community, they all come from different walks of life. We learn about Jacob, who works hard his whole life but makes bad decision after bad decision. Then there is his son Duncan, who is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. Jacob's wife, Nell, who blindly followed him to this wild country in search of a better life, only to be cast aside by the community because of her husbands actions. These are just a few of the characters in the novel with just a fraction of their personal predicaments.

Besides Jacob's lies about who he really is, his brother Matius has a downright evil streak. When Jacob seems to be getting things back on track with his family, Matius does something that will shatter Jacob's family as he knows it. The Ellstrom family will never be the same and young Duncan can't help but be drawn down a dark path of his life. Violence becomes a normal part of Duncan's life, and he can't help but embrace his violent tendencies when things do not work out as planned.

This book was kind of a slow read for me as it was packed with vivid details and information. One of the most difficult chapters for me to read was about Jacob when he was in a very dark time of his life, probably drunk most of the time. That chapter was so scattered that I couldn't help but compliment the author, because I imagine these thoughts could be pretty accurate for a man in his circumstances.

For those that are history buffs and interested in the early logging industry, this book would be right up your alley. With themes of family, secrets, lies, and survival you may enjoy this book too. I recommend this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion. ( )
  jo-jo | Mar 13, 2015 |
One of the reasons I chose to read this book is because of its setting and time period. The story takes place in the late 1800's in the Pacific Northwest, and Hart paints a vivid verbal picture of the harsh conditions the characters in a mill town called "The Harbor" face daily in their efforts to earn a living and make a home for themselves. In the first chapter, readers are warned about and welcomed into this callous fictionalized by one of the main characters, Jacob Ellstrom: “A body is a mob, a convulsion, an orgasm of destitute rabble. List to it breathe. Feed it. Keep it appeased, always. It’s written on the wall: The Harbor Welcomes You."

Hart does a great job of immersing readers into the hustle and bustle of a community where men toil long hours in the sawmills, sailors cause a ruckus, and criminal activity abounds. Part of what makes the world-building so effective is that the story is narrated by multiple characters giving readers a wider lens to peer into this gritty, cold, and brutal world and the lives that crumble under its weight. The pages are filled with betrayal, murder, heart-break, and remorse.

The two different types of POVs used to tell the story are another aspect of the book that I found interesting. Each chapter of the story is narrated from a particular character’s perspective, and Hart uses a first person POV to give Jacob, his wife Nell, and their child, Duncan a voice. By using a first-person POV, Hart invites readers to connect on a deeper emotional level with this family. However, when the story’s viewpoint shifts to other characters in the community, the author uses a third-person limited omniscient POV creating some distance between the reader and the character. Why the switch? Perhaps to emphasize that the members of the Ellstrom family are the central characters that drive the story.

Hart has created a cast of flawed characters from a range of socio-economic classes whose lives intersect in indelible ways that are often spurred by weakness, desperation, and violence. I didn’t care for many of these characters although I was interested in their backstories and what lay in store for them as the plot progressed. It’s hard to connect with self-centered characters whose greed and brutality overshadow any redeeming traits they might have. However, I don’t see this as a weakness in Hart’s character development. I think his intention is to show how hardened and indifferent people can become living in this environment.

Since the novel’s focus is on Jacob Ellstrom’s family, I really tried to like to empathize with their characters and their quest to start a new life together in The Harbor. While I was saddened to see their family fall apart, I didn’t feel much sympathy for Jacob or his wife, Nell. Jacob is a charlatan, posing as medical doctor building his practice and his place in the community from a foundation of lies. He is a weak man willing to abandon his wife and baby to save himself instead of taking a stand and protecting his family. Although Nell is a victim in many ways, she also makes poor choices that cause me to lose any sympathy I might have had for her. Their young son Duncan is the one who pays the price for his parents’ cowardice. He grows to be a rebellious, angry young man, quick to lash out at others, even those few who try to offer support. However, no matter how difficult his childhood was, it doesn’t excuse his misdeeds. All in all, I didn’t respect any of these characters. Loyalty, even within families, is scarce or non-existent.

Hart delves into the conflicts and failures of father-son relationships not only with Jacob and Duncan, but also with Matius and Jonas, and Mr. Boyerton and his son, Oliver. The author explores the depth of each son’s deep-seated anger and the triggers that bring it to light. Duncan’s hatred of his father and the inner turmoil he experiences because of it is the most apparent in the book and is examined with brutal honesty.

Hart also explores themes of forgiveness and redemption that make this a thought-provoking read. The story has a nebulous resolution, leaving the reader to speculate about what happens to some of the central characters and what their future might hold for them. Usually, I like clear, tidy endings, but in this case, I think it’s appropriate for each individual reader to decide what happens to the characters at the end. I’m sure readers will have mixed and varied opinions about what type of resolution these characters deserve.

Overall, reading the book was a slow but engaging experience for me. At times, I wondered about the inclusion of some scenes and their relevance to the overall plot. In some places, the author uses flashbacks to help the reader understand a character’s motivations, but the transitions to the past events aren’t always smooth. Some of the more emotionally explosive and dangerous scenes lacked the suspense and intensity I anticipated and were somewhat anticlimactic for me. Despite these shortcomings, I would recommend the book to those who enjoy historical fiction and aren’t put off by the story’s dark atmosphere.

Source: I received an ARC of this book from the author to provide an honest review. ( )
  Sunmtn | Oct 3, 2014 |
This was a book that took me a bit to get used the the author's rhythm of writing but once I did I was rewarded. It was not a light or happy book by any stretch of the imagination but it was a book that made me think and really evoked a range of emotions.

It takes place in Washington Territory at the very end of the 19th century when it was still a wild and untamed area. Mr. Hart knows how to create a mood and I swear sometimes I could feel the humidity as I sat and experienced the story. It's told in alternating voices and the core characters are the Ellstroms; Jacob, Nell and their young son Duncan. They have moved to the area so Jacob can practice medicine but a visit from his brother - evil personified who leaves nothing but destruction in his wake - breaks the family apart causing Jacob to run off leaving Nell alone with the care of Duncan. He grows up with little direction and his life is not easy and disaster awaits.

It is a dark book. Very dark. It takes place in a different time and it is written within its time with the attitudes and mores of its time so it is far from politically correct for today's sensibilities. But for it to remain true to its story this is necessary and so are the scenes of violence. This is not a book that glosses over what it takes to create a society out of wilderness. Nor does it gloss over the evil that man can inflict upon man.

Excepting Nell most of the characters are hard to like but that did not make me hate the book like happens quite often for me. The writing gathered me up and drew me in despite them. It was a challenge to read, it was hard to read but I'm very glad that I did read it. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Sep 19, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062297740, Hardcover)

Set in a logging town on the lawless Pacific coast of Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century, a spellbinding novel of fate and redemption—told with a muscular lyricism and filled with a cast of characters Shakespearean in scope—in which the lives of an ill-fated family are at the mercy of violent social and historical forces that tear them apart.

Keen to make his fortune, Jacob Ellstrom, armed with his medical kit and new wife, Nell, lands in The Harbor—a mud-filled, raucous coastal town teeming with rough trade pioneers, sawmill laborers, sailors, and prostitutes. But Jacob is not a doctor, and a botched delivery exposes his ruse, driving him onto the streets in a plunge towards alcoholism. Alone, Nell scrambles to keep herself and their young son, Duncan, safe in this dangerous world. When a tentative reunion between the couple—in the company of Duncan and Jacob’s malicious brother, Matius—results in tragedy, Jacob must flee town to elude being charged with murder.

Years later, the wild and reckless Duncan seems to be yet another of The Harbor’s hoodlums. His only salvation is his overwhelming love for Teresa Boyerton, the daughter of the town’s largest mill owner. But disaster will befall the lovers with heartbreaking consequences.

And across town, Bellhouse, a union boss and criminal rabble-rouser, sits at the helm of The Harbor’s seedy underbelly, perpetuating a cycle of greed and violence. His thug Tartan directs his pack of thieves, pimps, and murderers, and conceals an incendiary secret involving Duncan’s mother. As time passes, a string of calamitous events sends these characters hurtling towards each other in an epic collision that will shake the town to its core.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:41 -0400)

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