3 out of 4 stars
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Dark Hearts in the Forest: A New Adventure in the Old South by Bruce A. Miles is a modern-day story that takes place in the American deep south, where the local norms and moral codes often reflect a much more antiquated way of life. It is a story of the struggle between man and nature, between progressive “city” values and a traditional backwoods “country” life, and the way each manifests in conjunction with both positive and negative tenants of humanity.
After providing us with a bit of fascinating historical background on the area of the country in which the story takes place, the author introduces us to our protagonist, Kit Carson. Having recently inherited a large but remote property, Kit invites 4 of his friends to join him on a getaway, during which they plan to hunt, relax, and explore the land. Unbeknownst to Kit and his friends, the land adjacent is home to the LaHarpe family, several members of which are involved in a myriad of nefarious activities. As Kit and his friends settle in for their weekend away, they realize the extent to which they have disconnected from the rest of the world; their cellphones are non-operational, and it is a long and bumpy ride on difficult roads to return to town. Isolated with only each other and nature, the friends are forced to confront their personal issues as each seeks to establish his place in their hierarchy, and to re-affirm their long-lasting friendship.
Things soon take a turn, however, when the group crosses paths with two members of the LaHarpe family who have progressed into a life of crime. No longer the idyllic escape, their cabin becomes a fortress of protection against an unknown attacker. The five friends must put their differences aside to form a plan of action to protect themselves and Kit’s property against the violent intruders. Using their varied skills and backgrounds, as well as their knowledge of the landscape and resources around them, they team up for a dramatic and memorable showdown with the enemy.
This is a generally well-paced story with a simple and straight-forward plot. The author does an incredible job describing the beautiful natural setting of this adventure. His vivid language makes it easy to visualize each scene, and the action sequences are described in such detail that it is almost as if we are watching the characters on a screen. This comes into play specifically when the characters are handling weapons or machinery – each move is outlined and each part of the object is named and described. During the hunting scenes, it was clear that the author was writing about an activity of which he was personally knowledgeable, as (through the characters’ dialogue) he discussed and defined concepts with which a layperson may not be familiar. His depiction of the forest and the peace and wildness of nature allows the reader to feel as if he or she is out there with the characters.
There were several instances where some of the lengthy description could have been cut out, however, due to being repetitive. For example, the author mentioned at least two dozen times how the characters were weary of snakes on the forest floor, and just as many times the fact that they had no cellular reception. In other places, the same phrase would be repeated twice very close together - something like “He was very tired. He decided to tell his friends that he was very tired.” (Not a real quote, just a demonstration.) Another common trend was the author’s use of the characters’ dialogue to outline political opinion and commentary. There were several (again, somewhat redundant) scenes in which the five friends are sitting around, discussing current events and news headlines. During these scenes, the author includes many dense paragraphs of commentary on the events, bordered by quotation marks (implying that the characters are having this discussion amongst each other). However, often the character speaking is not even named. Since there are five individuals involved, it is impossible to determine who is saying what, and who is responding to whom. Consequently, the commentary does nothing to advance our knowledge of the characters themselves, but seems to serve simply as a thinly disguised platform for the author to delineate his own beliefs.
Despite the sections above, which I believe would benefit from another round of editing, the story moves along fairly briskly and is far from boring. The final culminating action sequence is long and exciting, and comes to a satisfying conclusion. Each of the five main characters learns and grows from the experience, and there is a solid underlying theme which is summarized best by one of the characters in the beginning of the story, that “the pain makes us appreciate the pain-free days.” At the end of the painful and harrowing experience depicted in this story, each of the five friends has a newfound appreciation of what it means to be pain-free.
This is a book that is likely to have a strong appeal to a very particular type of reader. Foremost, this story is written from a very male-centered perspective – each of the five main characters are men, as are their two adversaries, and women in general have only very brief appearances in the storyline. Unfortunately, many of the brief mentions of women are also laced with negativity; there are many scenes of one of the men complaining about his wife, and another in which a woman on her period is described as a “hell beast”. Due to this, as well as several instances of crude humor, a very strong emphasis (and appreciation for) the sport of hunting, and the male comradery of hunting excursions, I imagine this is a book that would appeal much more widely to men than women. There are also several very graphic scenes involving sexual activity, extreme violence, and drug use – for this reason I would absolutely not recommend book for minors. However, those readers who appreciate hunting and the outdoors, and who enjoy climactic and action-packed stories of survival would find a lot to love here. I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
Dark Hearts in the Forest: A New Adventure in the Old South
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