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The Prodigal: A Novel
Michael Hurley
Added: 8/2/2013
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The Prodigal: A Novel
Date Posted: 8/2/2013 | Go To Book Page

“Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.”
? Homer, The Iliad

“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”
? Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
the prodigal cover

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Aidan Sharpe is a weapon. A tightly honed weapon of savage grace, designed to cut and hew his way through a courtroom, leaving a trail of blood and broken lives in his wake. And a man who, as Michael Hurley describes him, a man who refused above all else to learn from his own mistakes . . .” And a man who, apparently, neither learns from his own mistakes, nor understands the depths to which he has fallen when his world comes crashing down. A man so intent on his own destruction, so lost in admiration of his own reflection in the mirror that that he thinks, even then, to grasp glory from ignominy.

And hence begin the travels of a man, once powerful, into a world entirely new. A world that, unbeknownst to him, will change his life, and his soul, forever.

Aidan washes up upon the dwindling sands of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, a man once renowned for this ability to miss no objection, to leave no emotion unexploited; now empty and barren, a shattered career leaving him no anchor to hold against the wind, and yet no sail to cross the wine dark sea of his own inner landscape.

Forced now, to become someone he never thought to be, he settles into the home of the local Catholic Priest, and begins his life as a simple boat yard hand, surrounded by the beauty of the island and the people there. A land of unadorned and sometimes brutal honesty, where life or death lie upon the break of a wave or the gust of a wind.

Hurley’s characters are heart wrenching and uplifting by turns. A lost woman, washed up amongst the waves, with no name to call her own. A priest more interested in kindness than creed. A Bahamian sailor, with secrets of his own. And a redheaded, female Irish tugboat captain, whose openness and honesty are in diametric opposition to Aidan who, in his own words, is quite capable of betrayal, deceit, manipulation, cruelty, self-pity and cowardice. And yet, those around him still think him a good and true man . . .

Into his life comes a sailing ship, lost upon the seas, empty and forlorn, which changes not only his life, but the lives of those around him. A boat, perhaps, out of time, and out of legend. A boat which, once again, changes his life and his destiny. Or does it?

There are great swaths of this book that I found touching, heart breaking and deeply moving. There is kindness and black cruelty, deception and honesty, lies and the purest of truths. In all honesty, I was brought up rather short about three-quarters of the way through the book when it became bogged down, in my opinion, in a type of blatant religiosity which pulled down the narrative. The story line is drug down, into a fog of didactic symbolism that lessened much of the joy inherent in Hurley’s words. The story to that point was poetic in nature, carrying me along in a haze of beautiful words. The story did pick back up, though some of the joy of the story was stolen from me, much to my disappointment. But it was, in all, not a deadly issue for the overall clarity and poetry of the book.

Much is made of the human ability to change and grow, and the possibilities of absolution. The setting of the story greatly encourages that idea. The sea, unchanging in its potential for change at any moment, the poetry of the words, do much to encourage the possibilities of redemption, of an answer to the question of what makes a ‘good man’ and whether an evil man can change, can become ‘good’.

Overall, except for the hiccup described, the book is beautifully done. Hurley’s descriptions of the land, the sea, and the people are charming. The story harkens back to the days of Homer, and the sailing of the great and unknown seas. I could nearly smell the sea and hear the waves. I wanted very much to walk the streets of Ocracoke and gaze out upon the Atlantic, to horizons unknown and unseen.

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