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When I initially encountered the cover of David McConnell’s second novel, The Silver Hearted, I was riveted by the image of an illuminated ship, isolated and askew in a vast river. My eyes were then drawn top center, to a tiny quote from Edmund White, “…a perfect work of art.” The ultra-fine print beckoned, challenged, “Come hither. I dare you to disagree with this American master.”
It is safe to assume Alyson Books was elated, at the very least, to have a literary icon provide this incredible blurb. No doubt, these seventeen letters will sell far more than seventeen copies.
But I wonder if the marketing department anticipated the degree to which these five small words tempted this reader (and likely others) to examine the novel in search of the reasons behind Mr. White’s superlative. It is possible they engineered it.
Only a few paragraphs in, McConnell gracefully transported me to a world so entirely engaging and captivating, there was no room for even Edmund White’s praise to shadow my transcendence. This novel’s world is concurrently historic and futuristic, familiar and foreign, gentle and gory, masculine and feminine. It is a world where women once were but now have little presence. They are remembered, but are not needed or pined for. It is a world where straight men aren’t threatened by, nor do they threaten, men who love other men.
The plot of The Silver Hearted is simple to summarize: a man is at the end of his rope. In a time of war, he must secretly and safely usher 24 blue boxes filled with 36,000 silver dollars—other men’s silver dollars, down a river.
His existence depends on his success at this task. It is a quest with obstacles, told by a most linguistic and literary narrator.
It is not the plot of the novel that grips tight and squeezes relentlessly. It could be argued that the plot is secondary.
McConnell set his novel in a fascinating and furious world. His ability to build passionate empathy for even the most minute and least likeable characters drew me in. The craft with which he rendered me thoroughly invested in situations and circumstances (ones that in less skilled hands would send me back to the bookstore) kept me reading. The luxurious language with which he told this story catapulted me into immediate fandom.
I read nonstop, suspended in time, in an imaginary city that McConnell has drawn with elaborate and vibrant specificity. While there are no factual reasons for finding this story’s settings or situations pleasing, every moment I lived in The Silver Hearted’s confines brought visual, intellectual, and emotional satisfaction.
I resented and regretted reaching McConnell’s final word. So I rebelled, and read it a second and third time—as befits any perfect work of art. I highly recommend you do likewise.
THE SILVER HEARTED
by David McConnell
Paperback w/ French Flaps, 230 pages, $14.95