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1. Narrative Design: Working with
2. Master of the Crossroads
3. Devil's Dream (Vintage)
4. The Stone that the Builder Refused:
5. All Souls' Rising
6. Toussaint Louverture
7. Barking Man and Other Stories
8. Narrative Design: A Writer's Guide
9. Doctor Sleep (An Evergreen book)
10. God's Country
11. Toussaint Louverture: A Biography
12. Anything Goes: A novel
13. Waiting for the End of the World
14. Ten Indians
15. Straight Cut (Hard Case Crime)
16. The Washington Square Ensemble
17. Zero db (Abacus Books)
18. Save me, Joe Louis
19. Soldier's Joy (Contemporary American
20. Barking Man and Other Stories

1. Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft, and Form
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 392 Pages (2000-04)
list price: US$18.95 -- used & new: US$12.41
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0393320219
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
With clarity, verve, and the sure instincts of a good teacher, Madison Smartt Bell offers a roll-up-your-sleeves approach to writing in this much-needed book. Focusing on the big picture as well as the crucial details, Bell examines twelve stories by both established writers (including Peter Taylor, Mary Gaitskill, and Carolyn Chute) and his own former students. A story's use of time, plot, character, and other elements of fiction are analyzed, and readers are challenged to see each story's flaws and strengths. Careful endnotes bring attention to the ways in which various writers use language. Bell urges writers to develop the habit of thinking about form and finding the form that best suits their subject matter and style. His direct and practical advice allows writers to find their own voice and imagination. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Very helpful - an excellent book on the craft of fiction writing
This book was very helpful--an excellent primer on the craft of fiction writing. One of the best things about the book is Madison Bell's close examination of several short stories by his former students.

2-0 out of 5 stars didn't dazzle
I had to buy this book for a writing class, and did not find it very helpful. ... Read more

2. Master of the Crossroads
by Madison Smartt Bell
Kindle Edition: 752 Pages (2007-12-18)
list price: US$16.95
Asin: B000XUAE8U
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
Continuing his epic trilogy of the Haitian slave uprising, Madison Smartt Bell’s Master of the Crossroads delivers a stunning portrayal of Toussaint Louverture,  former slave, military genius and liberator of Haiti, and his struggle against the great European powers to free his people in the only successful slave revolution in history. At the outset, Toussaint is a second-tier general in the Spanish army, which is supporting the rebel slaves’ fight against the French.   But w hen Toussaint is betrayed by his former allies and the commanders of the Spanish army, he reunites his army with the French, wresting vital territories and manpower from Spanish control. With his army one among several factions, Toussaint eventually rises as the ultimate victor as he wards off his enemies to take control of the French colony and establish a new constitution.

Bell’s grand, multifaceted novel shows a nation, splintered by actions and in the throes of chaos, carried to liberation and justice through the undaunted tenacity of one incredible visionary.

From the Trade Paperback edition.Amazon.com Review
In 1995 Madison Smartt Bell published All Souls' Rising, earningboth critical plaudits and a National Book Award nomination for thisfictional account of Haiti's 18th-century slave rebellion. Now he continuesthe saga with Master of the Crossroads, the second volume of aprojected trilogy. Even in his earlier narratives of contemporary America,the author has always been attuned to the byzantine politics of color. Butby focusing on the figure of Toussaint Louverture--the black general wholed the Haitians to independence only to be jailed for treason against theFrench Republic--Bell allows the politics of race to point him inunexpected and rewarding narrative directions. This is a big, muscularbook, which derives much of its strength from the author's willingness topaint his tumultuous political and physical landscapes with broadlysweeping strokes. But it is also a work of surprising delicacy, whosefinely drawn characters come to life with the minutest gesture or softlywhispered word.

The crossroads herein are not merely literal but metaphorical. Yes, theformer slaves and their courageous leader are pinned down in the island'sremote interior, caught between the English forces and the Spanish army(their nominal yet treacherous ally). But more to the point, Haiti'sintricate progress from slavery to freedom brings each of the characters toa crucial, defining moment of energy or introspection. And finally,swirling through the book like an island mist, is the voodoo figure of Mâit'Kalfou, or the "Master of the Crossroads." Straddling the worlds of thedead and the living, this ecstatic spirit may at any time inhabit the bodyof a believer:

Between Legba and Kalfou the crossroads stood open now, and now Guiaoucould feel that opened pathway rushing up his spine--passage from theIsland Below Sea inhabited by les Morts et les Mystères. His hipsmelted into the movement of the drums, and the tails of the red coatswirled around his legs like feathers of a bird. With the other dancers heclosed the small, tight circle around Legba and Kalfou, who faced eachother as in a mirror: the shining surface of the waters, which divides theliving from the dead.
Throughout, Bell's captivating vision of the battlefield bears witness to hisrigorous research. Still, the voodoo celebrations, and the author's slyevocation of their unexpected resonance, remain the novel's strongestmoments. Why? They speak, perhaps, to the apocalyptic nature of the Haitianrebellion. And more intriguingly, they permit Bell to play with thedeceptive nature of belief and reality--a move that, in an avowedlyhistorical novel, hints at the ironic fluidity of history itself.--Kelly Flynn ... Read more

Customer Reviews (10)

5-0 out of 5 stars Masterful writing!!!
The first book was fantastic and this novel did not disappoint.Professor Bell did not skip a beat between novels.The flow is seamless and his storytelling ability was greatly appreciated!He develops his characters in an intriguing and complex manner.The attention to detail put sweat on my neck and mosquitoes on my arm...!Thank you again Professor Bell!!!

5-0 out of 5 stars As Magnificent as All Souls' Rising, and that's saying a lot
I'm in the middle of the trilogy here, so I don't want to waste too much time writing about the unfinished work, but after 750 pages, let me note that I'm still spellbound by Bell's work. I love the way the title informs the whole work: at each crossroads (and there are many) I marvel at Toussaint's vision. Sometimes he slips out of his carriage or off the road at just the right time to avoid ambush or attack, more often than not in a kind of trance. The crossroads also seems like the meeting of two worlds, whether the spiritual and carnal, the Christian and Vodoun, or European and African. Riau and even Doctor Hebert have some mastery of those crossroads, as do some of the minor characters like Claudine and Moustique. I love the religious syncretism of this novel -- it's at once modern and ancient. Haiti is such a melting pot of culture, race, history, and belief that it's no wonder the stew is still bubbling. Even in poverty and despair, something so rich, so deeply, darkly true is being created that this reader feels compelled to journey there to taste it for himself.

The violence and politics continue to shock and delight. I particularly loved the story of Choufleur in this novel -- the kind of character you love to hate -- and the complex portrayal of Elise's new husband, Toquet. As for the many developments in the life of the characters -- births, deaths, victories, defeats, etc. -- one reads them passionately, but after 1500 pages they are threads in a tapestry that's still a work in progress. I'd love to discuss them with others, but I'm moving on.

In the meantime, there are the pleasures of Bell's trilogy to savor and enjoy. His writing is so confident, his grasp of the wide sweep of narrative and history so embracing, and his sense of the eternal so inspiring that I eagerly plunge on to The Stone that the Builders Refused.

5-0 out of 5 stars My Bicorne goes off to Bell
The depth and breadth of Bell's research indicates a colossal, inhuman effort that would take most people a lifetime, never mind the collation and fictionalisation of it afterwards.Haiti's colonial past is so convoluted it almost defies analysis, especially as much of her written history has been destroyed during centuries of successive sackings and burnings, and climate.

The violence contained within is grim and profoundly depressing - the horror, the horror, the horror - but it did happen and is still happening.Don't blame Bell for your revulsion.Use it to help the people who still live in Haiti.

I see there's some criticism about `magic realism' in this trilogy, but Bell clearly understands the part Vodou played in the Revolution, that Vodou - a valid religion born of slavery - ultimately helped slaves to overthrow slavery, although more so in the initial uprisings (i.e. Boukman).Today, without Vodou, the French would probably be using Haiti for nuclear testing, not that the average Haitian would be much worse off.

To bring the history and Vodou of Haiti together in such a linear historical masterpiece as this trilogy is nothing short of miraculous.Bell is surely served by the lwa, and if he isn't he should be.

5-0 out of 5 stars "Crossroads" of Destiny
Note: This review was published November 12, 2000, in the Seattle Times ...

The American Revolution helped inspire the French Revolution, which in turn sparked the Haitian Revolution -- an uprising of Africans against the sugar plantation owners who wrung their fabulous wealth from slave labor. Madison Smartt Bell's projected trilogy of historical novels tells the least well known of these momentous late-18th-century stories.

Volume 1, "All Souls Rising," traced the gruesome first stages of the rebellion in the French colony then called Saint Domingue, from 1791 to 1794. One who hasn't read that harrowing masterpiece can still enjoy Volume 2, "Master of the Crossroads," based on events of the next five years. In this novel the revolution is well under way, but the outcome is still uncertain.

It's a tumultuous, confusing time. The Spanish, who own the eastern half of Saint Domingue, and the British, who are at war with France, separately hope to oust the French, subdue the blacks, and possess the island known worldwide as the Jewel of the Antilles. Among the islanders, the French blancs, or white colonials, have split into factions: the royalists who want to enslave the Africans again, and the revolutionaries who believe that liberty is a universal human right. Old disputes flare between native-born Haitians and immigrants, between mulatto plantation owners and poorer mulattos, between rivals among the island's 500,000 rebellious Africans and, more broadly, between members of the resident races - 64 in all, according to France's official classification of blends ranging from Blanc to Négre.

Toussaint Louverture, whose amazing career Jacob Lawrence memorialized in a series of paintings, is at the center of the storm. Small and tough, formerly a slave, he possesses such extraordinary charisma and talent for leadership that he can force, frighten, mystify, or cajole various factions into agreeing to work for peace. Toussaint unites the armed, roving bands of blacks who seized their liberty and transforms them into a well-disciplined army. A brilliant military tactician, he regularly defeats the English and Spanish forces. His political gifts make him a formidable negotiator with the French and a master at switching alliances at strategic moments. He alone seems committed to protecting, regardless of the race or ideology of their owners, the lives and property that survived the time of bloodbath and burning.

Toussaint's motives are endlessly debated in the book. People close to him believe that he is unselfishly devoted to securing liberty and peace for everyone. But rumors that he secretly plans to crown himself King and reinstate slavery multiply. We view him from the perspectives of many different characters, yet he remains a mystery: a presence with a godlike power in crisis, an inscrutable Master of the Crossroads like the voudou deity of crossings and change, Legba.

Readers who can tolerate a little disorientation from chaotic historical events swirling around an enigmatic hero will have a wonderful time with this novel. Many of the episodes are works of literary art, the Haitian landscape is superbly rendered, and the characters are fully realized and memorable. We come to care deeply about them: Doctor Hébert; his beloved mistress Nanon; his sister Elise and her smuggler husband Tocquet; Hébert's friends the French captain Maillart and the African captain Riau; the African soldier Guiaou who is Riau's rival in love; plucky, wanton Isabelle; the dreamy boy-priest Moustique; the elusive, fascinating Toussaint.

Since Bell can't string their stories on a clear historical plot-line (this history is a tangle) he braids the everyday incidents and subtleties of their private lives into a central strand to which scattered public events can be tied. The characters, absorbed in ordinary pursuits, are regularly pulled into battles and intrigues, then released again into personal concerns. The point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, and we open each new one with the pleasure of greeting an old friend.

Nobody achieves an overall view of events -- which is partly the point. Yet even patient readers will wish for an index of characters keyed to page numbers. It's hard to keep people named Dessources, Dessalines, Desrouleaux, and Desfourneaux straight in a complicated narrative (sometimes set in Descahaux) with a cast of hundreds that also includes Delahaye and Dieudonné. The author's memory itself falters - the girl Paulette is called Pauline for a while -- but the Glossary and Chronology help.

Without them "Master of the Crossroads" would still be a stunning achievement: marvelously crafted, meticulous in its historical detail, magnificent in its sweep.

2-0 out of 5 stars Ponderous and sporadically involving
Madison Smartt Bell's second volume of his projected trilogy about the Haitian uprising of 1793-1804 is alternately gripping and ponderous.After having been enthralled by "All Souls' Rising" I have to say I was disappointed with this follow-up.

The same characters are all there as are Bell's masterful historical descriptions but something was missing.I too often grew bored and had to put the book down.I can't quite put my finger on what it is that dissuades me from giving this book a stellar review.I suppose at the end of the day I didn't feel as though I really learned much about any of these characters, and subsequently, I didn't care about them.Toussaint L'Ouverture remains somewhat of an enigma despite Bell's painstakingly detailed account.Perhaps this is intentional.Perhaps the point here is that Toussaint is - was - unknowable.This may well be true, but it doesn't make for satisfying reading.

Again, there are impressive set pieces galore.Bell's mastery of historical detail is staggering and genuine moments of suspense sporadically leap off the page.But in the end, none of this was enough to keep me compelled. ... Read more

3. Devil's Dream (Vintage)
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 352 Pages (2010-11-16)
list price: US$15.95 -- used & new: US$10.76
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 030727991X
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

A powerful new novel about Nathan Bedford Forrest, the most reviled, celebrated, and legendary of Civil War generals. With the same eloquence, dramatic energy, and grasp of history that marked his award-winning fictional trilogy of the Haitian Revolution, Madison Smartt Bell now turns his gaze to America’s Civil War. We see Forrest on and off the battlefield, in less familiar but no less revealing moments of his life; we see him treating his slaves humanely even as he fights to ensure their continued enslavement; we see his knack for keeping his enemy unsettled, his instinct for the unexpected, and his relentless stamina. As Devil's Dream moves back and forth in time, a vivid portrait comes into focus: a rough, fierce man with a life full of contradictions.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (10)

1-0 out of 5 stars Absolutely gratuitous trash
Absolutely gratutitous trash. Meticulously researched? Then show me the evidence of any mistresses, white,black or purple, and illegitimate children. Make up a fictional character and write what you want, but don't play around with a man's character. If I were a Forrest descendant I'd sue. Disgusting. If I were Mary Ann Forrest I'd horsewhip this idiot who masquerades under the term "author".

5-0 out of 5 stars The First and the Most
A Tour De Force andInstant Classic. N.B. Forrest was likely more larger than life than any other Civil War general, and after 150 years, a wealth of mythology has accrued to his life. Generations have waited for a text that could breathe life into Forrest and show us the true man. This is the most realistic portrayal yet.
The book spins a lyrical yarn of NB Forrest, his origins from the backwoods and his ascension as the greatest cavalry general of the war, presenting as real a portrait we are likely to ever have of the man. The story takes you into the slave cabins, the dining rooms and bedrooms of the Big House, the cotton fields, the streets of Memphis Tennessee and North Mississippi towns, the hills and swales of the countryside, where you hear the sounds of birds, horses, mules and the terrible sounds of battle through hot dank summers and cold harsh winters.
The prose draws the reader into 1860's milieu. We feel the swoon and sting of the seasons' elements, hear the birds and farm animals, smell the odors of the slave quarters and the kitchen in the Big House, and experience the homespun ways and mannerisms of the people of the time. The reader is transported to the South of the mid nineteenth century.
Perhaps only a work of fiction could do Forrest justice. The narrative does not stint in fleshing out the person of Bedford Forrest. Fact and fiction are woven seamlessly to create a living, breathing portrayal of Forrest, doing battle, making love, rising into fits of rage when challenged or provoked. He grapples with the political issues of the day with whites and blacks and of course with the issues of tactics and strategy and what it takes to lead men. Forrest commanded his troops with a magisterial air, leading from the front, charging headlong into the hottest battles, wounded numerous times, and having more than a score of horses shot from under him.
For those interested in the history of Memphis, many locations and landmarks are mentioned (Elmwood Cemetery, Mississippi & Kerr St.s).
However, there are historical inaccuracies, which, for students of the Civil War, detract from the force of the narrative. The conversation Forrest has with his slaves inviting them to join him for war, if it did occur, would never have transpired in the manner depicted. No one was calling the War a crusade to end slavery in 1861. Lincoln called it a war to save the union. However, to the modern reader, the idea that the South fought the war to preserve slavery is so ingrained as to be almost beyond debate. In reality, the South went through a lawful process with State Assemblies legislating an exit from the Union, and when Lincoln called for Northern States to muster soldiers to "quash the Rebellion", for the South, it essentially became a fight for Independence. Forrest did offer freedom to the slaves who joined him in the fight. An historical inaccuracy, which may have been poetic license: in the Battle of Shiloh the Confederate General is called Joe Johnston. In reality it was Albert Sidney Johnston.
Forrest's affair with a slave girl is pure fiction, butstrangely rounds out his character and creates narrative impact.
The inclusion of the Haitian, Henri, is a fictional ploy on which the entire narrative rests, since it's his dreams that carry long stretches of the story and sometimes it's hard to tell if we are in his dream or actual life. Fitting with the theme, the story jumps back and forth in time, just as a dream does.
Madison Smartt Bell has woven a tapestry that breathes life into the complex man who was Nathan Bedford Forrest. A "blood and guts" portrait that reads almost like an epic poem. Banjoes, fiddles, and dances depict rare but pleasant interludes, rounding out the picture. Using vivid prose, lyrically wrought, the author draws the reader into a dream that doesn't let up, holding the reader entranced `til the final page.
Forrest's worst fault, in league with his violent temper, was his use of profanity. Bell graphically evokes the blasphemies spewed from Forrest's mouth. While this artistic expression pounds the reader with evocations of the dark side of Forrest, it offends anyone with piety for God's name. Surely Mary Ann never permitted her husband to speak that way in her presence and I place myself in company with Mary Ann.

5-0 out of 5 stars RETREAT? HELL, NO! CHARGE!
Devil's Dream
Madison Smartt Bell
Pantheon books

Reviewed by David Madden

April is poetry month. If "April is the cruelest month," as T. S. Eliot said in his poem `The Wasteland," it is appropriate that we observe April as also Civil War History Month. Edmund Wilson called the War a time of "Patriotic Gore."

When asked "Who was the war's greatest general?" the great General Robert E. Lee declared, "A man I never met. Nathan Bedford Forrest was his name." Union General Grant called him "that devil Forrest." General Sherman is said to have regarded him as "the most remarkable man our civil war produced on either side."

In almost every respect, General Forrest, who became infamous as the father of the Ku Klux Klan, was very different from General Lee, who became known as the saint of the Lost Cause.

In his 14th novel, Bell succeeds in humanizing Forrest by juxtaposing scenes from his pre-Civil War past with scenes from the more familiar legendary life. We listen to the dreaming devil eloquently butcher the King's English, court the woman who became his wife, torment himself with a gambling addiction, torment his military superiors with his insistence on autonomy, torment his enemy with impulsively unique tactics--charging when expected to retreat--and amaze everyone with his energy and endurance, even when wounded.

Soldiers on both sides called Forrest "The Wizard of the Saddle." Bell imagines him in a supernatural dimension; because I have always imagined him as a force of nature on a mythic scale, that expressionistic device strikes me as very well conceived.

Forrest's multi-faceted life is a web of contradictions, which every one who encounters him experiences, including a young Haitian who comes to the states to foment a slave rebellion but who falls under Forrest's spell.

In spirit and in action the freest General in the war, Forrest had to wrestle with the paradox that he was a relatively kindly slave trader and owner who fought with extraordinary ferocity to keep slaves in bondage.

That this Nashville author of a trilogy of novels about Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian slave rebellion should steep his imagination, emotions, and intellect the task of rendering the most intimate portrayal of Forrest's unique life is eminently appropriate. That I now do not have to write my own long-intended novel about Forrest is a tribute and a blessing.

3-0 out of 5 stars Not as good as All Souls Rising
Well, I struggled a bit to write this review and I really wanted to give it 4 stars. But I couldn't in the end because I don't think that would be comparing "Devil's Dream" fairly to Bell's "All Souls Rising", a novel I find the richer and more moving of the two, and the novel to which I would attribute 4-5 stars.

"Devil's..." is all in all a very entertaining, original and informative read. The story of Nathan Bedford Forrest is a truly fascinating one, and some of the literary tools Bell uses (i.e. the bits of "magical realism") add to that fascination . Some of the events in the first half of the novel regarding Forrest's family are powerfully done, e.g.the affairs Forrest had are described in a interesting, non-moralistic, human way; the death of his daughter is devastating..

But in the end, the constant chronological swings tired me. After loving the first 250 pages of the novel, I virtually flipped through the last 50. My sense was that what was described in those last pages had already happened earlier in the book (e.g. another horse shot dead from under Forrest after another heroic charge...). I had also grown tired at this point of trying to decipher Forrest's tennessee accent.

I remain an admirer of Smartt Bell. But "All Souls Rising" will provide readers a better experience of his talent

4-0 out of 5 stars A Challenging Novel Which Demands The Reader's Full Attention
Madison Smartt Bell has chosen none other than controversial Confederate cavalryman, Nathan Bedford Forrest as the subject for his fifteenth novel, "Devil's Dream."Forrest was a conflicted man of many contradictions; he was a married man, and slave trader who fathered a son with his black mistress.He was born into a poor farming family and became a man of wealth, and married a woman above his station.He was a Christian with a gambling addiction who profanely swore, but did not drink alcohol.He was a brilliant cavalry officer, brave and daring, though often reckless, who was at once loved and hated by his men.

Bell's novel covers the twenty years spanning from 1845 to 1865. Jumping backwards and forwards through time, the author examines the complicated relationships of Nathan Bedford Forrest's life; with his wife and family, his slaves, his black mistress, and his soldiers.Often Forrest's family is at odds within itself: his wife, the former Miss Mary Ann Montgomery, is jealous of Catherine, Forrest's black mistress.The author also highlights the sibling rivalry between Forrest's two sons, Willie, who is white, and Matthew, who is black.

Added into the mix, Bell stirs in a trace of mysticism, as many of the battle scenes are told through the viewpoint of Henri, a free Haitian black, who joins Forrest's cavalry and frequently talks with the ghosts of Forrest's cavaliers who were killed in battle.

The books largest failing is what it doesn't cover, and perhaps the most controversial aspect of Forrest's life, his relationship with the Ku Klux Klan.For a novel about Nathan Bedford Forrest, this aspect of his life most certainly should have been included, and would have given the novelist so much more to work with.

Nathan Bedford Forrest, the subject of Bell's novel, never quite emerges from the nebular cloud of Bell's nonlinear prose.Forrest's speech is filled with dialect, which at once is somewhat cryptic, yet manages to get the point across.

"Devil's Dream" never quite gels as a complete novel, but rather seems to be a novel in pieces, much like a jigsaw puzzle.It challenges its reader to stay alert and demands the reader's full attention to put its pieces together in order to see the much larger picture.
... Read more

4. The Stone that the Builder Refused: A Novel of Haiti
by Madison Smartt Bell
Kindle Edition: 768 Pages (2007-12-18)
list price: US$16.95
Asin: B000XUDGUS
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
The Stone that the Builder Refused is the final volume of Madison Smartt Bell’s masterful trilogy about the Haitian Revolution–the first successful slave revolution in history–which begins with All Souls' Rising (a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award) and continues with Master of the Crossroads.  Each of these three novels can be read independently of the two others; of the trilogy, The Baltimore Sun has said, “[It] will make an indelible mark on literary history–one worthy of occupying the same shelf as Tolstoy’s War and Peace.”

From the Trade Paperback edition. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably good!!
This book was a masterful finish to a fantastic trilogy!If the subject were not somewhat obscure I am certain this series of books would be already be an American classic.I am so thankful for Professor Bell's exhaustive research and unparalleled writing skills.He brings the Haitian revolution to life.I have traveled back and forth to Haiti over the past 20 years and I will never look at the country or it's people in the same way!His development of characters and the seamless flow between chapters kept me in avid anticipation of my nightly reads.I am lost at the moment for what to read next!! If you want to understand the fierce national pride of the Haitian people this is a must read!Thank you Professor Bell!!!

4-0 out of 5 stars a depressing conclusion to an excellent story
I had read the first 2 books of this trilogy and looked forward to the third with a great deal of anticipation.After a hundred pages, however, I felt a sinking sensation as I realized that this story could not possibly have a happy ending.Bell had done such an excellent job realizing his characters that I felt deeply involved in their lives.After the horrendous atrocities of slavery and the slave revolts and subsequent battles, it seemed that the island was finally at some sort of peace.
But what a price!Then as the French arrived to re-assert their primacy and General Louveture succumbs to hubris the precarious peace falls apart and the bloodshed begins again with blacks against whites.
This last book completes the trilogy and tells a story that few of us know anything about.Haiti is a huge mystery to me and these books helped me understand a little why this country is the way it is.The legacy of slavery and the battles that were required to end it as well as the enduring suspicians between white and black are lessons for all of us even at this time (maybe particularly at this time).

5-0 out of 5 stars A Truly GreatSeries Of Historical Novels.
The three novels in this series are the best historical novels I have ever read. They deal with a horrifying event, the slave rebellion in Haiti. Bell does not flinch from the horrors the contending groups and individuals inflicted on each other. The historical background is well covered in the plot and appendix. Written by a master novelist. Bell also covers fascinating subjects like the Voodoo mythos that still exists in Haiti today. Reading this novel, one begins to understand the chaos of Haiti today. A country born in this much bloodshed and hatred is destined for more. In terms of gallons of blood spilled, our own revolution was a mere skirmish.

If you are at all interested in Haiti, race, relations, history, or just reading a good story, you should read this and the other two novels in the series, All Souls Rising and The Master Of The Crossroads. ... Read more

5. All Souls' Rising
by Madison Smartt Bell
Kindle Edition: 560 Pages (2008-09-30)
list price: US$15.95
Asin: B001J1S7CW
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description
In this first installment of his epic Haitian trilogy, Madison Smartt Bell brings to life a decisive moment in the history of race, class, and colonialism. The slave uprising in Haiti was a momentous contribution to the tide of revolution that swept over the Western world at the end of the 1700s. A brutal rebellion that strove to overturn a vicious system of slavery, the uprising successfully transformed Haiti from a European colony to the world’s first Black republic.From the center of this horrific maelstrom, the heroic figure of Toussaint Louverture–a loyal, literate slave and both a devout Catholic and Vodouisant–emerges as the man who will take the merciless fires of violence and vengeance and forge a revolutionary war fueled by liberty and equality.

Bell assembles a kaleidoscopic portrait of this seminal movement through a tableau of characters that encompass black, white, male, female, rich, poor, free and enslaved.Pulsing with brilliant detail, All Soul’s Rising provides a visceral sense of the pain, terror, confusion, and triumph of revolution.

From the Trade Paperback edition.Amazon.com Review
In his breathtaking and powerful novel that garnerednominations for both the National Book Award and the PEN/FaulknerAward, Madison Smartt Bell leaves the dark contemporary world he hasso brilliantly made his own in nine previously acclaimed novels andshort story collections, such as Save Me, JoeLouis. Now he turns to the past and bringsviscerally to life the slave rebellion that would bring an end to thewhite rule of Haiti in the late eighteenth century.The result is anexplosive, epic historical novel of astonishing depth and range,catapulting Bell into the ranks of the finest living authors. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (28)

5-0 out of 5 stars Left me begging for more!!
Tremendous read!!Perhaps having background knowledge of Haiti and the revolution was helpful but I found this book immensely enjoyable! Unlike other authors, Professor Bell translates nearly every Kreole quip.The local language creates ambience and authenticity to the book.The characters are very personal and enjoyable developing a believable perspective of the slave uprising from every angle.The violence is not excessive or unnecessary.Haiti continues to be a country of extremes.The people can be incredibly gentle or horrifically cruel!If you don't mind feeling the oppressive humidity or continually swatting the stinging mosquitoes from your neck, this is a must read!!Thank you Professor Bell!!!

5-0 out of 5 stars what fiction is all about
this does everything great fiction should do. bell tells the little-known (at least to americans) story of haiti's fight for independence through historically accurate fiction.

this first installment of his multi-book series succeeds as fiction as well as a window into a brutal, ugly, and ultimately inspiring moment in human history. the stories of haitian slavery and racial hatred/violence is as shocking and disturbing as anything i've read. bell's deeply nuanced portrayal of humans -- the good and the bad -- is stunning. it reads like a vivid dream.

more please!

5-0 out of 5 stars Powerful and necessary
I remember the first time I read a work of serious historical fiction. The book was OLIVER WISWELL by Kenneth Roberts, and it was electrifying. I must have been about 13 at the time, and that tale of the American Revolution, told from the Loyalist point of view rocked my world. It not only put a completely different spin on the fundaments of our nation that I had been taught in school -- it showed me that history comprised opinion as well as fact. Further, I learned then as I have relearned through the years that intentional fiction tends to draw us into another era far more effectively than the purportedly factual histories writ lten as textbooks. (Although, certainly, a work like Howard Zinn's brilliantA PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005), written from the point of view of men and women left out of the official records of the American epic, can be an exciting read.) It is a lesson I have just relearned again. ALL SOULS' RISING is a stunning work. The tale is that of Saint Domingue (Haiti) during the French Revolutionary era, when the French colony was in complete upheaval. It is a story of slavery and commerce, of plotting and armies, of racism and custom. Bell has managed to tell a tale of utter horror in a humane and compelling way that continually draws the reader in. Could human beings ever behave thus? Oh, yes, of course. We did and do, and the sections about hand-to-hand combat cannot help but cast shadows over the prospect of street fighting in Baghdad, if current plans pla ky out. Bell tells the story in multiple voices, letting us witness events from the European view, that of the African born slave, the island born creole, the soldiers and the planters. The primary tale is that of Toussaint Breda, a slave and self-educated doctor who became the first black ruler of the island nation (and who died in a French prison, during the course of a long and painful de-colonization process. Throughout the novel we are challenged again and again to answer: what makes us human? A brilliant work (and a National Book Award Finalist), I cannot praise it highly enough.

5-0 out of 5 stars Haitian revolution comes alive.Vivid, vast, haunting.
I had never heard of Madison Smartt Bell when I picked up this novel from the public library.After reading a few chapters, I began to wonder how this author could possibly not be famous?This is a moving, haunting book, panoramic in scope and often extrememly violent, bringing a unique event of human history to vivid life.

First, background about Haiti and its revolution ---->

The Haitian revolution is special in that the Haitian slaves were the first people of the world to throw off the white man's yoke and become free.At a time when India and Indonesia were just getting used to European rule and the slaughter of the North American natives was continuing apace, these blacks of Haiti (the majority of them directly brought in from Africa in slave-ships) overthrew their masters in a grand revolt and provided the Europeans with a taste of their own medicine of violence.It helped that France was going through it's great egalitarian revolution -- the slaves just happened to take the message of "equality liberty fraternity" seriously.

The post-revolution history of Haiti has not been happy -- including in the 19th century a succession of corrupt rulers and huge sums paid to France, and in the 20th century direct rule by the U.S. and then by brutal U.S.-allied dictators.But this does not make the unique revolution any less important!For a rapid history of Haitian revolution and the ensuing 200 years, have a look through the Library of Congress "Country Study" on Haiti, available online.For a modern (mid-20th-century) literary description of Haiti and of a voodoo ceremony, read Graham Greene's "The Comedians".

Now, about the book "All Souls Rising" ---->

Not knowing the author, as I read the first chapter, I decided unconsciously that he was white; the first chapter follows a white character (doctor Herbert) spending a night at a local plantation, describing breezily a disobedient slave woman crucified alive on the lawn for disciplinary purposes, and other minor tidbits.Moving onto the next chapter, I couldn't imagine that it was the same author writing, as we're following the viewpoint of Ri'au, an escaped slave who roves with a band of maroons, becomes (is possessed by) Ogun in a voodoo ceremony, and describes "whitemen" in the third person as totally alien beings.

(Later, a websearch on Madison Scott Bell told me he's white.But one of those that rises above his color and his imperialistic heritage; to hear all voices!What a writer!!)

The book is told from multiple viewpoints, alternating from chapter to chapter.Some of the characters are real historical characters.And some of the characters are very memorable.

-- A central character is the doctor Herbert, a peaceful Frenchman freshly arrived and unable to adjust to Haitian society based on slavery, throughout this book searching for his sister who appears to have disappeared.Through his experiences we witness much of the devastation and extreme violence of the times, perpetrated first by the white masters and then by the rebelling slaves.

-- A second central character is Ri'au, brought from Africa and escaped from Haitian slavery as a youth, who like doctor Herbert is mostly pushed around by fate, from one rebelling group to another, dancing to the voodoo spirits, burning and killing, and also under Toussaint's direction learning the white man's writing and discipline to use against his former masters.

-- Perhaps the most important character is Toussaint, the real historical figure we see mostly through the eyes of the fictional caharacters.A true tragic hero of the revolution -- one who went on from being a house-slave to learn the white man's writing and create a formidable, structured army from mostly Africa-born rebelling slaves, one who realized the importance of prosperity after freedom, and attempted to keep the white man's expertise in peaceful coexistence.The white man, however, wanted to reinstate slavery, and so imprisoned Toussaint after he had made peace and took him to France to die.

-- A side character I liked was a white priest with his mulatto wife and children - the character introduced and drawn lovably, and finally his execution described in horrific detail.

The book is so full of extraordinary events and situations that it's hard to give a taste in this review.There is the plantation-owner's wife cutting open a female slave made pregnant by her husband, and then being haunted by the murdered embryo for months.This haunted woman's confrontation with marauding rebel-slaves is one of the most unique literary descriptions I have read -- it's told first from the viewpoint of the white woman and later from Ri'au's.There is the (hilarious if tragic) situation of whites captured in the black rebel camps, the ex-slave women getting pleasure out of making the white women wash clothes as they always had done for white women.There are the voodoo ceremonies, often described by Ri'au, the practitioner's version of reality becoming the viewpoint of the chapter, as the residents of the spirit world are called forth and take control over the voodoo dancers.

Read "All Souls Rising".You won't forget it easily.

5-0 out of 5 stars You can't change the history
I read all three of the books in this trilogy.None is better than the others.They form a wondrous composite whole.This work is brilliant, stunning in it's complexity and it's presentation.The research must have been phenomenal.The characters are well drawn inside of the history that the events represent.

I was amused by other writer's comments about too many words and too gruesome or violent.If you read and there are too many words, then what are you reading for?If you understand the course of human events in the recorded world then you should know that human beings are not shinking violets when it comes to killing creatively, or rape or a host of other truly horrid human activities.The glory of Bell's achievement here is that he makes it all so real.Not too real, just humanly real.You can feel the heat.You can taste the coffee with a stick of sugar cane stirred in it.You can feel the characters love and hate based on their natures which are influenced by their experiences in life.This is not a read, it's a journey and one well worth taking.Masterful... ... Read more

6. Toussaint Louverture
by Madison Smartt Bell
Kindle Edition: 352 Pages (2009-06-09)
list price: US$14.95
Asin: B002CK8VJI
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At the end of the 1700s, French Saint Domingue was the richest and most brutal colony in the Western Hemisphere. A mere twelve years later, however, Haitian rebels had defeated the Spanish, British, and French and declared independence after the first—and only—successful slave revolt in history. Much of the success of the revolution must be credited to one man, Toussaint Louverture, a figure about whom surprisingly little is known. In this fascinating biography, Madison Smartt Bell, award-winning author of a trilogy of novels that investigate Haiti’s history, combines a novelist’s passion with a deep knowledge of the historical milieu that produced the man labeled a saint, a martyr, or a clever opportunist who instigated one of the most violent events in modern history. The first biography in English in over sixty years of the man who led the Haitian Revolution, this is an engaging reexamination of the controversial, paradoxical leader.

From the Trade Paperback edition. ... Read more

7. Barking Man and Other Stories
by Madison Smartt Bell
Hardcover: 230 Pages (1991)
-- used & new: US$3.29
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B001N1QMQG
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (2)

5-0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary stories
This is worth reading even if just for "Customs of the Country," a work of tremendous sadness, sensitivity, and restraint, one of the great American stories of the last 25 years.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great stories...interesting, well-defined characters.
This is a collection of short stories by a great writer.My favorites were "Petit Cachou" about hustlers and marginal types on the French Riviera and "Move on Up" about relationships among street people in New York.Absolutely first class ... Read more

8. Narrative Design: A Writer's Guide to Structure
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 376 Pages (1997-01)
list price: US$32.70 -- used & new: US$27.47
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0393971236
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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A roll-up-your-sleeves approach to writing fiction by one of today's best writers. With clarity, verve, and the sure instincts of a good teacher, Madison Smartt Bell illuminates the process of narrative design. In essays and analyses of twelve stories by established writers and students, Bell emphasizes the primary importance of form as the backdrop against which all other elements of a story must work. Discussions of the unconscious mind and creativity reinforce other essentials of good writing. Madison Smartt Amazon.com Review
Rare it is to find an examination of the workings of the shortstory so diligent and loving as Madison Smartt Bell's in NarrativeDesign. According to Bell--a creative writing instructor and veryfine fiction writer--"form or structure ... is of firstand final importance to any work of fiction." Here, Bellscrutinizes the underlying architecture of 12 short stories--some byhis students, others by the likes of Mary Gaitskill and WilliamT. Vollmann. Bell is unstoppable, his discussion of the storiesusually longer than the stories themselves. Every structural twist andturn is inspected, so that by tale's end we're reminded of those poorlittle frogs pinned for sixth-grade dissection, no bone left unturned.Bell's anatomy lessons are as eye opening as those of our youth (and alot less gruesome), though I do recommend reading each story first inits entirety, only then backtracking for the bone by bone.

Were itnot for Bell's insights regarding the fiction writer's juggling ofcraft and inspiration, a short-story writer might come away from thisbook completely paralyzed. Don't worry. Bell is well aware that theway in which a story comes into being is often as much of a mystery tothe writer as to the reader. Though the stories included alldemonstrate a strong structural logic, their writers, says Bell,"didn't plan it all. Probably could not have done so. At leastnot deliberately--not consciously." Instead, he writes,"Within the mind of every imaginative writer ... the faculty ofconscious craftsmanship engages with the inexplicable choices anddecisions of the unconscious mind. One of the writer's projects isalways to try, somehow, to turn this engagement into less of a battle,more of a partnership." --Jane Steinberg ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

2-0 out of 5 stars No insight
This book is a collection of stories accompanied by a description of each one according to a set structure; backstory, present action, character,tone, dialogue, imagery and description, time management and design. He follows this with Notes, comments on the story.

The idea of the book was interesting however, none of the entries taught me anything. He basically states the obvious. I found no insight here.

5-0 out of 5 stars A USEFULfiction workshop in the palm of your hands.
Finally! A book which not only gets to the heart of the"workshop" debate but also provides meaningful insights onwhat makes fiction work.On my shelf, this book has replaced Gardner's Art of Fiction as my bible for guidance in fiction writing.

5-0 out of 5 stars Woodsheddin' with the T.Monk of American lit ...
One of the country's best young authors provides an excellent textbook treatment of architectural matters lying at the heart of a writer's most basic concerns. Mr. Bell examines the invisible structures that underlie fiction.

While emphasizing that "form is of first and final importance to any work ..." he also pays pleasurable attention to the writer's need for spontaneity, attending to the peculiar struggle battling in the mind of a writer that requires constant shifting between the right and left hemisphere's of the head.

Happily, from the very beginning of the book, Mr. Bell makes plain his distaste for absolute, undying allegiance to form, and in a provocative essay, allows himself the pleasure of ruminating about self-hypnosis and rock 'n' roll in ways that stretch the reader's imagination as a warm-up before undertaking the very serious, quite detailed analytical dissections of a series of short stories that follow.

The most significant aspect of Mr. Bell's analysis is that he points to two general methods of building narrative structures: one, he calls "linear design," which develops along the time continuum, the chronological flow of events with which we are all so familiar; and the second, which he calls "modular design" - a great form for non-fiction writers, I believe - which relies more on an arrangement of ideas, images, motifs or abstractions.

In linear design, a writer would think of his or her material as a sculptor might, regarding one block of wood or granite by imagining the seemless, smooth shape that could be carved or chiseled out. The overall work - the long form with its distinct beginning, middle and end - is considered the most important single aspect of the piece.

In modular design, however, the writer's effort is not aimed at whittling away at the block until the form beneath is clear, but at assembling bits and pieces, as one would a mosaic. Looking at the work from a distance, the writer would thoughtfully place these bits and pieces in a meaningful, aesthetically pleasing way, letting the natural contrast between pieces, speak to the whole. If linear design is essentially subtractive, Mr. Bell says, modular design is additive. In non-fiction, there are lots of great examples of this, such as Tracy Kidder's chapters on the lumber industry in his book "House." John McPhee has used this form, to a large extent, and to great success. Many essayists rely on modular design.

The book is particularly enjoyable because of the form Mr. Bell has chosen. He relies on a wide range of stories, analyzed in detail, peppered with footnotes, to examine the structural choices of professional and student writers. Best of all, Mr. Bell writes wonderfully and playfully. His observation of writing structure as analogous to the underlying chords for jazz or rock 'n' roll improvisation is an example of his own ability to riff on a theme, compelling writers to have fun, to think seriously about the value of form, but to find ways of using structure that leave the imagination lively and flexible.

I'm a fan of his, in part, because he brightens the literary landscape of my town, Baltimore, as a writing teacher at Goucher College, and he also happens to be a brilliant novelist, selected by Granta as one of the Best Young American Novelists in 1996 and a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction ("All Soul's Rising").

I am a non-fiction writer, so Mr. Bell's work interests me in ways in which his lessons can be applied to literary journalism. Although he does not discuss non-fiction, a genre that offers its own peculiar problems, the book can be useful for those who do not write fiction, but do rely on the techniques of fiction to strengthen the field of vision in creative non-fiction. He has noodled out many dilemmas of the craft, producing an excellent workshop book that any writer could take to the woodshed.

Like other estimable teaching books, such as John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction," Mr. Bell's "Narrative Design" is a gift for those who care to think seriously and deeply about applying architectural-like standards to narrative structure in the creation of their own literary arts. ... Read more

9. Doctor Sleep (An Evergreen book)
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 304 Pages (2003-02)
list price: US$13.00 -- used & new: US$0.01
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0802140165
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Madison Smartt Bell is one of the most versatile and gifted authors of his generation, a literary stylist with few peers. Doctor Sleep, one of his best novels, is a taut and satisfying psychological thriller planned to be released as a major motion picture under the title Hypnotic. Adrian Strother is a hypnotherapist who, paradoxically, can't get to sleep. He plies his trade in a depressed section of London, doing the occasional job for Scotland Yard, which brings him into contact with an unsavory drug trafficker. As little girls become the target of a serial killer, Adrian treads the line between tortured wakefulness and surreal sleep, and the gifts of his insomnia are called upon to unlock the secrets of a man who believes he has discovered the key to immortality. Part spiritual pilgrimage, part thriller, Doctor Sleep is witty, menacing, and deeply satisfying, a bravura performance by one of today's finest writers. ... Read more

10. God's Country
by Percival Everett
Paperback: 232 Pages (2003-05-15)
list price: US$18.00 -- used & new: US$6.14
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0807083631
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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For the first time in paperback, Everett"s "comic and fierce"* novel of the Old West The unlikely narrator through this tale of misadventures is one Curt Marder: gambler, drinker, cheat, and would-be womanizer. It"s 1871, and he"s lost his farm, his wife, and his dog to a band of marauding hooligans. With
nothing to live on but a desire to recover what is rightfully his, Marder is forced to enlist the help of the best tracker in the West: a black man named Bubba.

"I loved this book. God"s Country is like no western I"ve ever read before: a wonderfully strange and darkly hilarious brew of Kafka and García Márquez, of Twilight Zone and F-Troop, with cameo appearances by Walt Whitman
and George Custer thrown in for good measure. Percival Everett has written a terrific book, a Wild West road trip that challenges our assumptions about what human dignity really means."
—Bret Lott, author of Jewel: A Novel

"An outrageously funny, alarmingly serious, highly enjoyable novel."
—Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe

"This wild novel of the West is comic and fierce, turn by turn; it follows white and black and red men down their several paths through God"s Country, and the reader tracks them with a sense of shocked delight."
—*Nicholas Delbanco, author of What Remains

"Mr. Everett is successful combining heart with rage. . . . The novel sears."
—David Bowman, The New York Times Book Review

Percival Everett is the author of eleven novels including the recent Erasure, which won the inaugural Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for fiction. He lives with his wife on a small ranch and teaches at the University of SouthernCalifornia, Los Angeles. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Finest kind and then some
Percival Everett's "God's Country" is at once the funniest and dryly bitterest novel about race I've read. Not to mention highly entertaining dialog -- all around, one terrific book. Everett just keeps getting better and better for me. Up next, as soon as it arrives (hurry up Amazon), is Grand Canyon, Inc.My husband was out of town this week so I was quite lonely reading Everett last night as I had no one to share the especially thigh-slapping bits except the cats and, well, let's just say their sense humor isn't well developed.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Wild Wild West
Womanizing and hustling, gambling and drinking, horse-rustling and cross-dressing--Everett sends up the cliches and formulae of every Western novel you ever read. And the narrator Curt Marder, part-time husband and full-time loser, adds an all-important forgotten ingredient: "I had read what I could of the dime novels about the frontier . . . and generally the little books gave a fair account, but always failed to mention the smell." That's why cowboys tended to be quiet loners: "We came together in bars and churches more or less to assure ourselves that our smells were normal and not an indication of coming death."

The action begins when a band of marauders torch Marder's house and barn, kidnap his wife, and kill his dog. ("Killed your dog? What kind of heathens do we have in these parts?" "Efficient.") After gambling away the remains of his ranch, he enlists the help of the local tracker, Bubba, a pensive black farmhand with a reputation for getting things done. This unlikely duo travels the hills and vales of the Wild West, looking for Marder's captive wife--unless something more interesting crops up. Along the way, they have to avoid a country minister selling Bibles with only a few pages missing ("a bout of illness just as we pulled away from Kansas City saw the demise of most of Deuteronomy"), a two-bit hooker seeking revenge on nonpaying customers, inbred locals who will bury folks up to their necks for the entertainment value, and the spotlight-hogging swagger of the local army commander. ("My name is Colonel George A. Custer. Perhaps you've heard of me" "No, sir." "Drat.")

Page after page, the one-liners and the tall tales keep coming. But about two-thirds of the way through the book the tone shifts bracingly and unexpectedly when an ever-present threat in Bubba's life penetrates the fog of Marder's irresponsible tomfoolery--that a posse of vigilantes is often more than happy to lynch the first available black man whenever a crime is discovered. The author relentlessly spoofs the racial dynamics between whites and blacks and Indians; Marder's buffoonery is brilliantly offset by Bubba's gravity and by a local tribe's apprehension. Yet the book never stops being funny: even when the satire becomes acidic and shines a light on uncomfortable truths, Everett keeps the reader laughing at the story's situational absurdities, its characters' foibles, and our own racial attitudes. "God's Country" is one of the most hilarious--and somber--Westerns I've ever read.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Contemporary Twain
"God's Country" is an irreverent farce, one that peels away the romantic whitewashing (pun intended) often given to depictions of the Old West - even depictions that think they are being irreverent. Everett's characters, more often than not, are smelly, boorish, and stupid. More importantly, they are narrow-minded, violent, racist, sexist, and self-righteously hypocritical. Everett masterfully balances coarse humor, a broad and penetrating social critique, and a sympathetic portrait of the far more complex Bubba, a black tracker who struggles to maintain his independence and dignity against this hostile cultural backdrop: "All I want is one day where I ain't got to worry about a white man decidin' I looked crosswise at him, one day where I ain't got to worry just 'cause I hear a rider behind me, one day where I ain't called a boy." I was continually reminded of Mark Twain as I read this novel: it is that funny, and that smart.

5-0 out of 5 stars American Splendor
This book is amazing. I read Everett's Watershed and liked it so much I had to read another one by him. Watershed and God's Country have just been reprinted together, and they are both incredible: funny, poignant, incredibly intelligent, and heart-breaking. Everett portrays America at its starkest, from the point of view of the downtrodden, with a dignity and surety it makes you shiver. The language is miraculous, and the story breathtaking. This is realistic fiction as I've always dreamt of finding.

5-0 out of 5 stars Fantastic & Funny!
It is this reviewer's opinion that Percival Everett's God's Country is nothing short of a mini-masterpiece.Set in 1871 and narrated by a very unlucky cowpoke, Curt Marder, the book shows the good, bad, and ugly aspects of life in God's Country (the proverbial Wild West).

The story opens with marauders burning Curt's ranch, kidnapping his wife, Sadie, and committing the ultimate indiscretion of shooting his beloved dog.Curt, a spineless coward and ardent racist, does nothing to stop them and watches from a distance as his home is destroyed.He hires Bubba, the best tracker in the area (who happens to be African American), to lead him to the culprits (and subsequently Sadie) in exchange for half the ranch.It is in the journey to save Sadie that Curt constantly witnesses and benefits from Bubba's selfless acts of benevolence and humanity, but is blinded by racism, stupidity, and ignorance to realize the errors of his ways.Instead, he consistently lies, steals, and cheats, largely driven by greed and his own self-interests.

Mr. Everett is an excellent writer having pulled off such a spoofy odyssey.Through his words, the reader experiences the sights, sounds, and smells of hard living in hard times.It is a relatively short novel that is richly saturated with dark humor and unforgettable, wonderfully imagined characters with names like Wide Clyde McBride, Pickle Cheeseboro, and Taharry whose speech impediment causes him to preface every word with "ta," thus earning him his unusual name.The book even includes a "cameo" appearance of "Injun killin'" George Cluster and bank robbers reminiscent of the James/Younger Gang.

This book touched on so many issues (the "isms") on a number of levels.Through the misadventures of Curt and Bubba, the author covers the institutionalized racism and social injustices that Native, Asian, and African Americans endured.There are painful scenes of an Indian tribe massacre and a lynching of an innocent black boy.The sexism exhibited against women in the West was evidenced in the Jake and Loretta storylines, and the emerging socio-economic strata (classism) between western landowners was touched upon as well.However, for me, the most powerful messages were saved in the last few pages of the novel's surprise ending.Without revealing too much, I thought it was clever in the way that the author paralleled Bubba's "dream" to live freely without fear or judgment to MLK's desire to be judged by the content of one's character and not by skin color.Curt comments that Bubba's dream did not sound like much of a dream summed up the underlying arrogance and indifference toward his fellow man that resonated throughout the story.

This is the second book I have read by this author and I have not been disappointed yet.I am looking forward to picking up his other works as time permits.

Reviewed by Phyllis
APOOO BookClub, The Nubian Circle Book Club
July 19, 2003 ... Read more

11. Toussaint Louverture: A Biography
by Madison Smartt Bell
Hardcover: 352 Pages (2007-01-16)
list price: US$27.00 -- used & new: US$8.70
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375423370
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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In 1791, Saint Domingue was both the richest and cruelest colony in the Western Hemisphere; more than a third of African slaves died within a few years of their arrival there. Thirteen years later, Haitian rebels declared independence from France after the first--and only--successful slave revolution in history. Much of the success of this uprising can be credited to one man, Toussaint Louverture--a figure about whom surprisingly little is known.

In this fascinating biography, the first about Toussaint to appear in English in more than fifty years, Madison Smartt Bell combines a novelist's passion for his subject with a deep knowledge of the historical milieu that produced the man. Toussaint has been known either as a martyr of the revolution or as the instigator of one of history’s most savagely violent events. Bell shatters this binary perception, producing a clear-eyed picture of a complicated figure.

Toussaint, born a slave, became a slaveholder himself, with associates among the white planter class. Bell demonstrates how his privileged position served as both an asset and a liability, enabling him to gain the love of blacks and mulattoes as "Papa Toussaint" but also sowing mistrust in their minds.

Another of Bell's brilliant achievements is demonstrating how Toussaint’s often surprising actions, such as his support for the king of France even as the French Revolution promised an end to slavery and his betrayal of a planned slave revolt in Jamaica, can be explained by his desire to achieve liberation for the blacks of Saint Domingue.

This masterly biography is a revelation of one of the most fascinating and important figures in New World history. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (9)

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent review!
Well written.Very detailed account but readable.Gave me insight into the personality and drive of this incredible man.I agree with prior reviewer that maps and character lists would be helpful.

5-0 out of 5 stars An important and interesting read
Toussaint Louverture who lived from roughly 1744 to 1803 was the preeminent leader of Haitian independence, a model of a rebel, and a paradox of a person.He was a self educated slave who was freed shortly before his uprising in 1791. In 1793 he allied himself with the Spanish against the French but later changed sides and fought alongside revolutionary France, whose Jacobins had freed the slaves in 1793, to help expel the English who Toussaint noted had not freed the slaves of their colonies. By 1799 he was master of the island and was forced to put down a rebellion by mixed-blood freedmen (known variously as `mullatto' or `coloured'). By 1801 he was in charge of the whole island but the next year Napoleon sent an army to wrest it back to France.Toussaint was kidnapped and whisked away to die in France while his former slaves fought on and eventually gained independence in 1804, only the second independent country in the New World and one of only a few independent black countries in the world.

This book is a very readable masterpiece of writing drawing mostly on secondary sources to flesh out the fascinating life of the former slave and rebel leader.The story pays close attention to the class and ethnic destinctions on the island, showing the great degree of animosity between the French, the creoles, the free Gens De Colouer (coloreds) and runaway slaves.This is a fascinating portrait of the New World, the Carribean, a French colony and slave life and rebellion.Toussaint was an ardent Catholic and persecuted Voodou.The last chapter isa lively discussion of the problems Haiti has faced since the time of Toussaint, a story that can also be found in `Why the Cocks fight'.

A riveting and important book.

Seth J. Frantzman

5-0 out of 5 stars The Master of the Crossroads
Well known for his trilogy of historical novels chronicling Haiti's struggle for independence from France (ALL SOUL'S RISING, MASTER Of The CROSSROADS, and THE STONE THAT The BUILDER REFUSED), author Madison Smartt Bell is familiar with the primary and academic sources on the people and events that led that country through its chaotic and bloody triumph to becoming the first black state in the Western Hemisphere. Of those men, the most important of all was Toussaint Louverture.

Madison Smartt Bell's TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE: A BIOGRAPHY is a necessary addition to a subject only few have dared to take on.As a biography it provides a sober and ubiased account of the former slave and self-taught veterinarian who, at age 50, would also prove himself a brilliant leader and military genius.

Unlike most others who've written about the man, Bell provides much detail on Louverture's early life and ambitions.He presents a Louverture who was shrewd (the man ably manipulated the interests of both the British and the Spaniards) and level-headed, but who was also just and often disgusted by the bloody excesses of the slaves' rebellion.

What makes this such an excellent work is in the way Madison Smartt Bell fleshes out Louverture's world with an indepth look into the various social classes and ethnic groups of Saint Domingue, the role religion and spiritualism played in the daily lives of the slaves and the strong influence of Voudoun on the rebellion--something that, depending on the situation, Louverture would either persecute or encourage.By highlighting the social and ethnic groupings of upper-class white landowners ("grand blancs"), lower-class white laborers and merchants ("petit blancs"), those of mixed race ("gens de coleur"), freed blacks, and the slaves, Bell shows how each one was antogonistic towards all the others and makes a strong point of presenting Haiti's war of independence as something much more complex than a slave uprising.

Highly recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars Avenger of the New World
After finishing another great work from Bell, I felt like there could never be enough written about this overlooked and distingushed figurehead named Toussaint.Bell chooses a subject which is quite frankly haitian, but who is more importantly american and borne of the spirit of enlightenment.This book unveils the complexities that surround this great leader who was free, propertied, owned slaves and was a devout catholic who was belived to also practice voodoo by the time the revolution started. A worthy read for those not only interested in haiti but also how leaders emerge...

The French Revolution, as all great revolutions, had effects on world politics and the struggle of other peoples whom awoken to political life in the afterglow of that event. The fight for freedom in French Santo Domingo (now Haiti, the name that I will use to avoid confusion hereafter) led by Toussaint to a point just short of independence is a prime example of that effect. Without the revolution in the metropolis it is very unlikely that at that time the struggle in Haiti could have been successful. The history of the times was replete with unsuccessful slave rebellions. Why it was successful in Haiti and how that success was accomplished, mainly under the leadership of Toussaint in its decisive phases, is the subject of Mr. Bell's book. Mr. Bell's scholarship and necessary updating of Toussaint's story compares very favorably with that of the eccentric Marxist, later Pan-Africanist, historian C.L.R. James.

The freedom struggle in Haiti, a tropical island well suited to intensive agricultural development for the new international market in those goods necessary for the embryonic industrial system, was above all the struggle for the abolition of slavery. The fight against that servile condition that even many revolutionaries, white and black, and former revolutionaries of the time broke their teeth on. Today that freedom struggle, successful in its way in the Haiti of the early 19th century, remains a shining example of the only really successful fight against slavery by the slaves. So it pays to pay particular attention to the fight.

The forces which pushed the French Revolution forward in the metropolis had their its own set of priorities, among them the fight to move the population from a condition of subjugation to a monarch to citizens of a democracy. I have noted elsewhere how important that changed social status was to the historical and psychological development of modern humankind. Nevertheless that same psychology applies to the struggle in Haiti although even more so under conditions of chattel slavery. Thus, the events in French had their reflection in the colonies particularly in Haiti. One can observe in France the changes in attitude and policy from the early revolutionary days when all classes were good fellows and true through the rise of the leftist Robespierre regime based on the plebian masses, its eventually overthrow and establishment of the Directory and then the various manifestations of the regimes of Napoleon. That regime and its treacherous colonial policy attempting was a very far drop down hill from the early heady days when even moderate revolutionaries were in both places prepared to go quite far to eliminate slavery in Haiti.

There is something of a truism in the statement that great revolutions throw up personalities fit for the times. Certainly revolutions shake up the traditional order of things and let some who might have stayed dormant rise to the occasion. That is the case with Toussaint. For most of his life he was a middle level functionary on his master's estate respected by not slated for greatness. Early on, as the struggle against slavery heated up among the black slaves he exhibited the military, social, political diplomatic and other skills that would eventual thrust him into the leadership of the liberation struggle, This is really saying something special about the man because in the context of that Haitian revolution with the initial disputes between British Spanish and French interests and then the conflicting interests on the island itself between white, black and mulatto would have driven a lesser man around the bend. That it did not do so and that in his errors that which at times were grievous, especially around his seemingly obsessive commitment to maintain the French connection, does not take away from the grandeur of the experience. A cursory look at the latter developments on the island and the seemingly never ending series of tin pot despots who in their turn devastated the island only brings out Toussaint's fascinating role, warts and all, in the earlier liberation struggle in broader relief.

... Read more

12. Anything Goes: A novel
by Madison Smartt Bell
Hardcover: 320 Pages (2002-06-25)
list price: US$24.00 -- used & new: US$2.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0375421254
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The only taste of life Jesse has known in his twenty years is bitter: his mother disappeared before he could talk, his father never got over being left, and Jesse’s presence seems only to kindle his father’s anger. Jesse’s talent is for music, which has given him a livelihood and a home as a bass player in a bar band called Anything Goes. Band life offers the opportunity for the dregs of experience (hangovers, mildewed hotel rooms), and the antics of his band mates (all of them older than he is; some of them wiser, some not) offer more schooling in hard knocks.

Anything Goes tells Jesse’s story over the course of a year, during which he finds his life slowly being tempered by the unexpected: by a dad who wants to make up and be part of Jesse’s life; by a female lead singer who suddenly makes the band sound a lot better than they have any right to be; and by the confidence Jesse begins to feel in his own musical talent.

A complete departure from the sweeping historical vision of Madison Smartt Bell’s Haitian novels and the gritty cynicism of his intense urban dramas, Anything Goes confirms Bell as one of the most versatile, most gifted, most surprising novelists of his generation.Amazon.com Review
In Anything Goes, Madison Smartt Bell's 13th work of fiction, the author follows a Tennessee country/rock cover band as it plays dives up and down the Eastern seaboard. The main character, Jesse, capitalizes on a new lead singer's abilities and the shuffling of band personnel by slipping in his original numbers (and those of the former lead guitarist), much to the crowds' delight.

Bell provides us with a strong sense of who Jesse is: a twentysomething kid of mixed race, drinking and carousing on tour and trying to cope with a once-abusive father who reappears to attempt reconciliation. Other characters, unfortunately, drift in and out, and interesting band members are left half-developed. He does, however, capture the excitement of a band when it clicks, of the adrenaline rush stemming from the audience, and of the delight in finding music for words. After Jesse and the new lead singer, Estelle (depicted as a Dolly Partonesque rural beauty/singer), have a flirtatious encounter, Jesse thinks: "Lover was the word in my mind; I had known lots of girls, women, but hadn't called them that. Or maybe it was something else in Estelle's smile. It was like we had a pleasant secret between us--except she knew what it was and I didn't."The secret, however, is not well disguised; its revelation comes as no surprise. Even Bell's longtime readers may be disappointed by the unevenness of Anything Goes.--Michael Ferch ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

5-0 out of 5 stars Deep in the Mind of a Rock N' Roller
This book is my first exposure to Madison Smartt Bell, and I'm impressed. The book begins with a debauched scene that, frankly, was too much for me, but I persevered. And as I persevered, so did the main character, a 20-year-old who's playing bass guitar with a cover band. That character (Jesse) tells about the ups and downs of a musical life on the road, while he's also searching for a higher beauty in his life and a deeper understanding of his past.

I am the producer of a music festival, so I have a pretty good understanding of musicians, even though I'm not a performer. And I can say that the depictions in this book ring true about the love that most musicians have for what they're playing, what they're learning from others, and what they hope to create on their own. When you join those strong elements of the book with a young man's "coming of age" saga, it's a very satisfying combination.

4-0 out of 5 stars good portrait of abuse
I found this one very readable--the prose flowed right along. The handling here and there of racial issues was interesting, though I was disappointed to see another kind, decent, one-dimensional "magical black friend" helping out a white character at the center, such a typical American literary and cinematic device. But the protagonist isn't fully white, which is an interesting twist, but not one that really ends up going anywhere. Still, those quibbles aside, the movement of Jesse away from his father's abuse toward autonomy, and apparently toward forgiveness of his father, was very effective and honest. Nearly everything in this novel felt very real, and it taught me some things about making music too.

3-0 out of 5 stars Like being in a bar band without the late nights & hangovers
A mildly engaging story about a Southern bar band called Anything Goes told from the point of view of Jesse, the bands' 20-something guitar player. We follow the band as they travel from dive to dive, losing members, gaining members and finding their groove.

Since Jesse is the narrator, the focus is mainly on him: his relationship with his formerly abusive, alcoholic father, his crush on Estelle, the band's new lead singer and his attempts to sort out his post-adolescent angst regarding family, women and music. The other band members don't feature too prominently and aren't very well-developed, although the book would have been more interesting if they were. Nor did Bell delve too deeply in Jesse's past relationship with his dad. There's also a little "surprise" relationship involving Estelle and Jesse's dad, but unless you're really thick, it won't come as much of a shock.

It seemed to me that something was missing from this story. Maybe it was the shallowness of the characters, maybe it was the meandering nature of the novel; there was no real plot, just a succession of gigs at roadhouses up and down the East coast. It was, however, a convincing depiction of life with a bar band, and that managed to hold my interest enough until the rather lackluster ending.

4-0 out of 5 stars Subtle and poignant
"Anything Goes" drifts along, raveling out the thread of its story in a leisurely style that's at once engaging and attractive. Taking place over a year and in many locales, "Anything Goes" introduces us to Jesse, a disaffected and somewhat bitter young man traveling through his life as a member of a band called...you guessed it...Anything Goes. As a band name, the title [is bad].... But as a theme for the novel it works quite well.

Jesse, abandoned as a child by his mother and physically abused by his father, has become a man who doesn't expect good things from the world. As he matures throughout the pages of this book, he discovers himself in ways that are both subtle and poignant. This is a quiet story that stays with you long after you've read it...and I recommend giving it a read!

4-0 out of 5 stars Growing Up.
Filled with themes of identity, family, and maturity, Bell's thirteen book takes place over a year, following a Nashville-based cover band as they travel down the eastern seaboard and up into Vermont, playing roadhouses a few weeks at a time. Jesse is their bassist, and for him, the ritual of being on the road creates a sense of security and family, since his mother abandoned him soon after birth, and his alcoholic father beat him all through childhood. Jesse is happy to follow the warm weather around, playing music, scoring occasional women, and then hanging out at band leader (and surrogate father figure) Perry's farm during the off-season.

This steady existence is skewed somewhat when Jesse's father shows up clean and sober, and looking for reconciliation. Part of this involves introducing him to a neighbor whose singing knocks his socks off. Soon enough, she's in the band, and they have great and greater success, all while Jesse struggles to identify his feelings for her and hers for him. Nothing earth-shattering happens in the book, but the relationships and issues are all captivating and feel true to life. Jesse 's mother was a Melungeon (a dark mysterious Appalachian people whose origins are unknown) and the band's drummer is black, allowing Bell to touch on racial identity issues here and there as the band drifts though white-trash venues all through the South. The towns, bars, and motels all spring from the page as real places, with history and grit to them.

Over the course of the year's cycle, Jesse comes to terms with his past, his heritage, and his future in a very non-soap opera way. This book could have easily drifted into sappiness (think Oprahish) and never quite does. The last portions get a touch heavy-handed, but never so much as to spoil the easygoing tone of the book. Musicians may especially enjoy this book as there is a great deal of language attempting to describe how Jesse feels about hearing and playing music, and how it infects his whole being. One last note, the first chapter originally appeared as a short story in the "It's Only Rock And Roll" anthology. ... Read more

13. Waiting for the End of the World (Contemporary American Fiction)
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 336 Pages (1986-10-07)
list price: US$9.95 -- used & new: US$5.23
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140093303
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (3)

3-0 out of 5 stars A little slow out of the gate, but a strong finish.
There actually is a lot of plot in this book, a group of terrorists trying to set off a nuclear bomb in New York City, a child-torturing devil-worshipper turned skid-row serial killer, Vietnam horror stories, the Sorbonne riots of the 60's, a mafia mass-murder, an American drug courier's unpleasant stay in a Mexican prison, and a former junkie disfigured by his own mother turned arsonist. Not to mentionappearances by a ghost, a few cases of spontaneous human combustion and a very Dostoevsky-ish devil.

Yet for some unknown reason, Bell decides to start off with a longish episode of the main protagonist watching the changes in the sky. (This follows a Roscoe and Enos prologue where if you blink you might not realize a murder just took place.)

After about the first hundred pages, it's a tough book to put down, but those first hundred or so pages are a bit more of a struggle than they should have been.Bell knows how to tell a story but for a while there he seems more intent on showing he can write pretty.

Two stars off, one for the slow pacing at the start and one for a bit too much magical realism,(the ghost added nothing and made me start to resent the devil worshipper and the spontaneous human combustion cases as well.)

1-0 out of 5 stars Ho-hum
Post-Modern posturing and hocus pocus masquerading as mysticism andeschatology.Larkin is the closest thing to an interesting character thisbook presents, and its pacing makes frozen molasses seem to run likequicksilver.No need to mention plot inconsistencies and outright gaffesby the author.The editor should be shot.

5-0 out of 5 stars A modern day Dostoevsky?
A brief look at the list of writers that have sharpened their pencils at the Iowa Writers' Workshop shows how outstanding the talent is that goes through this institution. Writers as diverse and eloquent as Raymond Carver, John Irving, T.C. Boyle and Pinckney Benedict have learnt the tricks of the trade at the Ur-workshop of all creative writing schemes. Madison Smartt Bell has taught there.

Waiting For The End Of The World, his second novel, is a whole lot better plotted and constructed than his already quite promising debut Washington Square Ensemble, delivered at the tender age of 26.

Set in the valleys of Manhattan and Brooklyn, Waiting For The End Of The World is a modern day tale, a dark and doomy epic of Russian proportions. No other book - of the nine novels and two short story collections - that Bell has written to date has even been close to the boiling dark atmospheres, layered and set into deeper and even deeper, unknown systems and tunnels of the ultimate urban landscape that is New York City. Nothing compares to this helter skelter with its seemingly random anecdotes, a definitive plot, and tales of utter lunacy.

As ludicrous as it will sound, Waiting For The End Of The World is a classic on a par with Dostoevsky's works (which did indeed serve as some serious inspiration) ... Read more

14. Ten Indians
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 272 Pages (1997-10-31)
list price: US$12.95 -- used & new: US$4.93
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: B000HWZ2UO
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
One of the most gifted novelists today turns his sharp eye to the radical lines that divide contemporary America. In inner-city Baltimore, a child psychiatrist, who's successful practice has kept him insulated from the harshness of the streets, desires to make a difference in the world around him. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece!!
Bell's ninth novel is a stunning accomplishment; alternating between the explosive language of Baltimore's drug culture with the meditative qualities of Tae Kwon Do, he examines race relations, hope and compassion, and most specifically, the moral dilemma of doing and not just saying.The novel takes places in modern day Baltimore, both in the suburbs of upper middle class, as well as the inner city urban homes.

Mike Devlin seemingly has it all, a successful psychiatric practice, a nice home in one of the wealthier suburbs, a loving wife and a daughter getting ready to go off to the college of her choice in a year. He is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and as the top student in his Master's school, Devlin is sent to start a new branch.This branch is set up in the inner city of Baltimore.It is here that the rest of our cast is introduced.

We meet many inner city youth at his school:Trig, Gyp, Kool-Whip, Freon, Sharmane, Tamara, Buster, D-Trak, Clayvon, Stuttz, amongst others.Here we see the opposite life to Devlin's; those with nearly nothing.Living in projects, one or maybe no parents, and children way before they were ready.

There are virtually no minor characters in this novel besides maybe some of Devlin's patients.They are used to foreshadow some events and to allow the reader the possibility that Devlin is not satisfied with his current life.Over half of the dope dealers and those residing in the projects are fully realized.We understand what they do, how they do it, and sadly, why they do it.

Bell is one of the few authors out there seriously writing about race issues.It's as if he needs to do so, as if his writing about the problem will help him come to some conclusions. In lesser writer's hands, this set up could lead to a very cliché book.In the hands of Bell it becomes anything but.His use of language is true; as the story alternates between various narrators (including an omniscient third person narrator), the language takes on the structure and vocabulary expected.

To the outsider, as Devlin gets more involved in his school, he begins acting strangely.To some it would appear as some sort of a mid-life crisis.Even his wife, an ex-social worker with some professional acumen, feels he is sliding down a tunnel of depression and warns him he won't drag her along.He even struggles himself at times to come to words for what he is doing, but before his final actions he comes to a realization.

He is not succumbing to the notion that one individual can't make a difference.He is following the words of his Master and doing what he says, not just saying it.He is getting involved in lives, trying to make a difference.For an hour a day, he is fairly successful.It is the other 23 that put him to the test.

There is plenty of action throughout the novel;both in and out of the Tae Kwon Do school.Bell does a great job of describing hand to hand combat.His writing allows the reader to visualize each action, almost well enough to believe he or she is learning Tae Kwon Do, banging along with the characters, or watching Devlin's patients describe their lives.

You won't soon forget Devlin, his daughter Michelle, Trig or any of the other characters in this book; their efforts, actions and plight will stick with readers for awhile.Amazingly enough, Bell published this book in between volumes I and II of his Haitian trilogy.With ten novels in print now, and two short story collections, Madison Smartt Bell has enough to keep you busy reading for a long time.Take advantage.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great Novel
I'm not much of a reader.As a matter of fact, I used to avoid books like the plague.Ten Indians is a book that I had to read during summer school last year in college, and I am glad that I did.The author did a wonderfuljob of grabbing my attention and keeping it throughout the entire novel. Basically, this review goes for all you non-readers out there, if you haveto read a book, read this one.

5-0 out of 5 stars The best book I've read this year.
Madison Smartt Bell does a masterful job of contrasting inner city and middle-class life through speech, thought, and experience.A good read...compares favorably with Richard Price's "Clockers" ... Read more

15. Straight Cut (Hard Case Crime)
by Madison Smartt Bell
Mass Market Paperback: 253 Pages (2006-05-30)
list price: US$6.99 -- used & new: US$0.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0843955929
Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (11)

1-0 out of 5 stars I've enjoyed every Hard Case Crime book except this one
I've read a lot of Hard Case Crime books. Some are vintage 1950s classics of the hard-boiled genre, while others are new published works from some of today's hottest authors. The classics are laced with subdued violence and implied sexuality, while some of the newer books are full of swearing, violence and sex. And, I've enjoyed all of them until now.

STRAIGHT CUT by Madison Smartt Bell is a Hard Case Crime book that I just can recommend. It really is a long, meandering mess, and even as I read the final pages, I really didn't quite know for sure what was going on. Tracy seems to be in some sort of love triangle with his wife Lauren and best friend Kevin. As a film editor, he goes to Italy for a job where he gets tangled up in some kind of drug deal.

The purpose of this review is simple. If you like Hard Case Crime books, then keep reading them. Just don't choose this one.

1-0 out of 5 stars Very Dull Reading!
A dull novel about a film editor's trip to Rome and his encounter with some gangster, his ex-wife and his shady and bland yuppie friend.

Why did Hard Case Crime deem this book worthy of resurrection? It is a very tediuos novel from the 1980's which goes nowhere after the promising first two chapters. The main character bores us with talk of Danish philosphy and nothing much happens until the very end of the book.

Madison Smartt Bell is obviously a talented writer, but the novel lacks punch, as well as a point. I hope that there were not too many people who tried reading this book as their first foray into the Hard Case crime library, since this one is hardly representative of the usual fair they have been saving from obscurity.
HCC has done a wonderful job of bringing back the old fashioned crime paperbacks of the 50's, 60's and 70's, as well as intorducing original novels by various authors; packaging them with great covers to boot, but this one should have been left in the "Do not reprint" pile.

2-0 out of 5 stars Skip It Unless You Are A HCC Junky
Some might think this is a weird story for HCC to publish. Yet, it seems to fit once you realize these are the same guys that republished "The Last Match." HCC has proven to be a diverse little company that turns out some unusual gems from time to time. However, this little nugget should have just been thrown out.

The book opens up in the middle of a guy's existential crisis and beats you over the head with it for the first chapter. The scenery and descriptions are unimaginative symbols for the emotional wreckage of his life. It also opens with a sense of ambiguity about the lead character's sex and sexuality. Which in the 1980's might have been fresh - when done correctly - but comes across as poor writing in this particular book. I got very little sense of whom the character was in anyway for the first bit of the book. This left me not really caring at all about the character later in the book. I had no reason to feel an attachment.

It also struck me as kind of ridiculous that this character that has been projected as very meek (if not down right weak) finds the ability to have a sudden burst of"Special Ops" level fighting skills. Where these fighting skills come from is never explored and mainly used for the sole purpose of producing an object to use for foreshadowing. Which makes it seem not only inauthentic to the character but the whole arch of the story.

This book was peppered with clichés, plot devices, and flights of fantasy. It became a chore to slog through the story. When the writer was not making the protagonist seem like a whiney drunk he was twisting the story to fit his predetermined course. The plot did not seem to flow logically and characters seemed produced like bridges. They cover the holes so that we can eventually get to the destination. A destination that was obvious nearly from the beginning of the book and most certainly from the time he takes the job.

I would advise people to skip this offering unless they are a hard-core fan of Hard Case Crime or just a collector looking to complete their collection.

2-0 out of 5 stars Well-written but ever so boring..
Yes, maybe I was expecting something different from Hard Case. I devoured the previous books in the series and enjoyed most of them. But this one stopped me dead in my tracks. It was well-written, no doubt about that. The author has a way with words. But as far as plot goes.. Cliche after cliche. *spoiler* (and as if by the first chapter, after we are told about his dog, we aren't supposed to EXPECT him to sacrifice someone at the end? come on..). *end of spoiler* It was a real chore to get through this book. When I want high literature, I want a layered plot with atypical characters and situations. This book, however, had a plot right out of a Europe-based crime movie complete with idiot foreign gangsters. I probably could have dealt with the cliche plot if the narrator didn't just go ON and ON about philosophy and about film theory (though the chicken thing was interesting, I'll admit) and film editing. Very tedious. Boring. If I wasn't collecting every Hard Case Crime book, I'd through this one right in the trash. I also think HCC was stretching it by releasing it under their name.. This was a mild crime novel that was mostly about friendship and love (not a thriller as the cover blurb says).
So yeah, if you enjoyed the other Hard Case Titles, just skip this and get any of the previous ones. You've been warned.

3-0 out of 5 stars Interesting crime fiction, but not that great overall
Straight Cut features an unconventional protagonist - a Kierkegaard-quoting film editor - and various other unusual aspects for the crime genre.There's the hidden backstory (many areas of the past are never fully revealed) plus the way the lead character "accidentally" falls into a drug deal that becomes the story's main suspense element.Then you've got the writer of Cut, a literary author (Mr. Bell) not normally associated with crime fiction.All of this stuff is interesting, and is also pretty well covered in the other customer reviews. My bottom line on this novel is that there was never really enough suspense.This is NOT edge-of-your-seat story-telling.The lead guy, Tracy, more or less just seemed to wander out of one scene and into another.So I would not recommend it as a good read.One other thing, too ---- the cover art is a fun throwback to pulp fiction covers of the mid 20th century, but it is also a misrepresentation of Straight Cut's story.The scene depicted on the cover never happens in the story, and the teaser quote, "She was a pawn in their deadly game," really has very little to do with what happens in the book.I found that annoying. ... Read more

16. The Washington Square Ensemble (Contemporary American Fiction)
by Madison Smartt Bell
Paperback: 352 Pages (1984-04-03)
list price: US$23.00 -- used & new: US$3.78
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140070257
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (2)

2-0 out of 5 stars Bell's Debut
Bell's first novel is a quasi-phantasmagorical journey with a band of weird heroin dealers in Manhattan circa 1980. The story (such as it is) is, takes place over the a weekend, and is told in alternating chapters through the voices of seven characters. Through flashback chapters, we are given the backstories of this wretched band of pushermen. Their leader is Johnny B. Goode, who survived New York's internal Mafia wars of the '60s and '70s, and now finds himself quietly building a tidy little nest egg through his gang's Washington Park concession. His right hand man is Holy Mother, and their friendship dates back to the Mafia days, when the latter was a no-questions-asked, stone-cold hitman for the mob. However, he was incarcerated and found himself caught in the middle of the famous Attica prison riot on 1971, and hasn't been the same since. Joining the two ex-Mafia in the heroin trade are two religious weirdoes. Yusuf Ali is a huge black man from the Bronx, who was orphaned and raised himself in a basement of rats before discovering Islam. Santa Barbara is a loco PR, deep into santeria and generally off in his own world. On their periphery is Porco Miserio, a down and out saxophonist who had been part of the group and is now in exile.

The book begins with a night of dealing which ends in a bizarre encounter with Porco, who wields a strange stone of seemingly magical power. After a heart-warming scene in a diner where the dealers wind up the night and divvy up the proceeds, they split up. The book then takes on the tone of a dark comedy flirting with absurdism. Weird stuff happens. Strange conversations take place. Scripture is recited. A cop is told about their dealing. Someone ODs. A saxophone is played. Part two of the book occupied the final third of the book and takes place the next morning, and revolves around the policeman's attempt to take the gang down. The climax involves an epic battle pitting nunchucks against a group of Rasta soccer players in the middle of the park.

This probably makes the book sound pretty wacky and out there. In one sense it is, but without the vivid sense of discovery one hopes for in such works. The NYC scene is kind of interesting, but the ramblings of Santa Barbara and Yusuf Ali bring things to a dead halt whenever they appear. And the mystery of the stone ends up being a touch too cryptic. Ironically, the most gripping part of the book is also the most straightforward, and that's a twenty page chapter in which Holy Mother recounts his Attica experience. That's something that's been more or less forgotten some three decades later, and the fictional retelling is fascinating. Would that the rest of the book were equally so. Bell does some nice things with wordplay and language, but on the whole, it's skipable unless one had a particular interest in fiction about New York.

5-0 out of 5 stars Like a hit of tar from a tin foil pipe
Madison Smart Bell has a way with violence--in his novels it always seems to happen to the people you care about."The Washington Square Ensemble" is the perfect book for those who like their charactersseedy (these are a group of Washington Square Park drug dealers), theirperspective close (told from a multitude of first persons), and their prosepoetic.Perhaps it helps that a pair of num chucks make an apearancebefore it's over--a sort of deus ex machina for fans of "NinjaMagazine".Who knows.The real pleasure is the insight into thesedrug denizens' lives.From an alterboy-turned Attica ex-con with a habbitto the NBA size Muzlim who used to eat and wear rats (?), Bell reveals hischaracters like a flashlight on your kitchen cockroaches--you see a hiddenworld, then it's gone in a flash.Read the first page in a bookstore orlibrary.If you aren't compelled to take the book home with you, I supposeyou just wouldn't get it. ... Read more

17. Zero db (Abacus Books)
by Madison Smartt Bell
 Paperback: 192 Pages (1989-08-25)

Isbn: 0349100829
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Zero db is Bell's first collection of short stories. Its subjects and settings range from a slaughter yard in Tennessee to the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn. In each brilliantly written story, Bell displays a powerful, unforgettable vision of the world. ... Read more

18. Save me, Joe Louis
by Madison Smartt Bell
Mass Market Paperback: 544 Pages (1996-09-13)
-- used & new: US$54.82
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 2742709053
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Realistic and Moving
I've only read two novels by Madison Smartt Bell, but I'm very impressed. He has an ability to portray people on the margins of society -- or even beyond the margins -- with both the romance of living on the edge and the sorrow of their lives.

In this book, Bell begins with New York City in the rough-and-tumble times in the early 1980s. Times Square and the surrounding area wasn't the Disneyfied neighborhood of today. It was a land of pimps and hustlers, drugs and crime. I know it because I lived in NYC at the end of the 80s, and it was scary to be on the streets in midtown after dark.

Bell evokes the life of small-time hustlers, muggers, and prostitutes who prowled midtown and lower Manhattan, eeking out just enough cash to cover their tenement rent and drinks at dive bars. But rather than glamorize that life as the genesis of, say, a music-and-art scene, Bell portrays people who are wasting their talents. Sadly, they even know that they have talents they are letting fall to waste.

As the 20-year-old Macrae gets more deeply involved in the life laid out by his older friend Charlie, we see Macrae trying to crawl out of his stupor. But bad habits, anger, alcohol, and drugs keep him deadened for month after month after month. Even when he tries to do good, it blows up in his face.

Finally, a robbery gone wrong forces Macrae and Charlie to flee New York and go to Baltimore, where they meet another hustler (Porter). Again, a robbery goes wrong, and they have to flee to Macrae's hometown of Nashville. And again, a robbery goes wrong, and they flee further south to Charlie's hometown. Finally, their luck (so to speak) runs out, and Charlie and Macrae have an ultimate showdown.

"Save Me Joe Louis" is entertaining; you can enjoy it for the plot alone. But the book is more than that. It strongly evokes both the down-and-out city life and the beauty of the countryside. In the end, you'd like to know Macrae, Charlie, Porter, and Lacey -- and yet, you'd be scared of each of them, too.

... Read more

19. Soldier's Joy (Contemporary American Fiction)
by Madison Smartt Bell
 Paperback: 465 Pages (1990-07-01)
list price: US$11.95 -- used & new: US$87.92
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0140133593
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
A man returns home from Vietnam to his now abandoned family homestead outside of Nashville, suffering from a serious psychological wound incurred in combat. He meets up with a childhood friend who is black, and together they battle against a platoon of Klansmen for the literal salvation of a local preacher. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (4)

5-0 out of 5 stars A beautiful piece of work
Someone gave me this book 14 years ago, and I just got around to reading it because there was nothing else on my bookshelf that I hadn't read. I'm glad I picked it up! The book deals with music and violence and family, and the prose itself is musical at times. There is one chapter devoted to a relatively minor character's death that is heartbreakingly beautiful. And no, not a "typical" Vietnam story at all. I, an avid Jane Austin fan, loved it.

4-0 out of 5 stars not 'chick lit' -- that's for sure
A great book that sneaks up on you over time.The relatively slow beginning is a wonderful evocation of the rural south and of the healing power of music and nature.However, violence is not that easy to tame.As someone who grew up after the Vietnam War (born 1969), I've often wondered why so many veterans ended up training in some form of martial arts.This book goes a long way towards explaining that need.The violence from the war bleeds through the lives of the vets in this novel as both a liberating and a destructive force; they can't shake it and they aren't sure if they really want to.

5-0 out of 5 stars Aftermath
Laidlaw and Redmon were raised together in the Tennessee hills on the horse farm owned by Laidlaw's father; the black Redmon family living in one of the out-buildings and Redmon, Sr. working for Laidlaw, Sr. The boys are friends, a friendship complicated less by their different races than by young Redmon's perception that his father prefers Laidlaw to him. The boys, as boys will, grow to manhood, enter the army and are shipped to fight in Vietnam, where terrible things happen. They return, independent of each other, and spend much time alone-Laidlaw living in the Redmon's old home (Laidlaw's father died when the main house burned down) and Redmon in prison as the fall-guy in a real estate scam. Laidlaw had used his solitary year, surrounded by nothing more than a motley of farm animals, a stray dog, and a runaway peacock, to become proficient enough with a banjo that he can attract a following playing with a blue-grass band. Redmon seeks him out at a performance and the friendship is renewed.

In "Soldier's Joy", Madison Smartt Bell has much to say about tragedy, loss, solitude, betrayal, fathers and sons and the psychological devastation that can be wrought upon young men who have spent a year up to their elbows in gore. This is a book rich in both description and nuance. The Tennessee countryside is vivid and the musical imagery-and there is a lot of it-doesn't come across as forced or cloying but instead reads like a soundtrack. The writing is so fine, so "writerly" that it is easy to overlook the fact that the plot is almost an afterthought and is full of holes. This is not to say that Mr. Bell can't tell a story-he can. There are several scenes of firefights that are gripping and exciting and rank with the best of the breed. However, the basic plot (introduced well into the novel) about the Klan being somehow offended by the interracial friendship of Laidlaw and Redmon and by the interracial following of a local evangelist and trying to end both by violence, is thin. There are also two characters-Laidlaw's musician girlfriend and the ex-Green Beret leader of the Klan-who deserved better development. These are quibbles. "Soldier's Joy" is post-Vietnam fiction that is well worth reading.

5-0 out of 5 stars deeply affecting
This is a wonderful book, the kind that you start to read slower when you get close to the end because you don't want to say goodbye to the characters.

the story itself is engaging and interesting, but the subtly crafted dialog, revealing so much about the characters so naturally is what astonished me.

This is a book that celebrates the extraordinary in ordinary people, and made me feel better about humanity (be warned, I don't think you'd call it a 'feel good' book though!).

I loved this book, and will be seeking out more by the author. ... Read more

20. Barking Man and Other Stories Brit Edition
by Madison Smartt Bell
 Paperback: 240 Pages (1992-01-23)

Isbn: 0747510148
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Editorial Review

Product Description
A collection of short stories, including "Mr Potatohead in Love", which focuses on the drop-outs of society, and "Holding Together", which is told through the voice of a Chinese mouse. Other work by the author includes "Dr Sleep". ... Read more

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