Brailling For Wile


Fiction - Social Issues
294 Pages
Reviewed on 06/17/2015
Buy on Amazon

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Review Exchange Program, which is open to all authors and is completely free. Simply put, you agree to provide an honest review an author's book in exchange for the author doing the same for you. What sites your reviews are posted on (B&N, Amazon, etc.) and whether you send digital (eBook, PDF, Word, etc.) or hard copies of your books to each other for review is up to you. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email, and be sure to describe your book or include a link to your Readers' Favorite review page or Amazon page.

This author participates in the Readers' Favorite Book Donation Program, which was created to help nonprofit and charitable organizations (schools, libraries, convalescent homes, soldier donation programs, etc.) by providing them with free books and to help authors garner more exposure for their work. This author is willing to donate free copies of their book in exchange for reviews (if circumstances allow) and the knowledge that their book is being read and enjoyed. To begin, click the purple email icon to send this author a private email. Be sure to tell the author who you are, what organization you are with, how many books you need, how they will be used, and the number of reviews, if any, you would be able to provide.

Author Biography

James Zerndt is the author of THE CLOUD SEEDERS, THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY, and BRAILLING FOR WILE. His short story, "THIS JERKWATER LIFE", was recently chosen as an Editor's Pick in Amazon's Kindle Singles store. He received an MFA in Writing from Pacific University and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son and their adorable debts.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Nathan M. Beauchamp for Readers' Favorite

While set at the foot of the Rockies in the towns of Gunnison and Crested Butte, Colorado, the style, themes, and prose of James Zerndt’s Brailling For Wile places it alongside the work of other literary “Midwestern” writers such as Kent Haruf and Richard Russo. Zerndt understands the interconnectedness of small towns and weaves together a half-dozen story lines into a cohesive whole. Each character stands distinct. Zerndt allows them the dignity of their beliefs, be they a fanatical masseur or a twelve-year-old boy flirting with nihilism after the suicide of his father. No condescension can be found in these pages, no hint of pedantry or sarcasm. Zerndt gives his characters their due and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Thoughtful nuances here and there prevent the novel from overwhelming the reader with the intensity of its themes. Suicide, alienation, religious extremism, loss of faith, the way families can fragment after tragedy —Zerndt is honest about all of them and doesn’t provide easy, trite answers, either as the author or using his characters to sermonize. Instead, he shows characters in flux, characters struggling with their circumstances, themselves, and the human condition. All with prose that is simple, poignant, and lovely. There’s a hopefulness to the narrative as well, a necessary offset to the themes Zerndt takes on. While darkness can enter any of our lives at any moment, the tenacity of the human spirit will win out in the end.

Perhaps this is the defining characteristic of Midwestern fiction: the belief that we are made better by community, made better by being known, made better by the togetherness that small towns and small communities can provide. While some writers romanticize the small town and others portray them as cesspools of dysfunction, Zerndt treats them as he does his characters: not as black or white but in necessary shades of gray.

The controlling metaphor of the novel (brailling; the act of feeling the surface of letters in a Scrabble bag in order to find specific ones) works well enough, though non-Scrabble players may not fully “get” it. There is a sense in which Zerdnt has tried to accomplish too much in this short novel. Some of the supporting metaphors and symbolism around coyotes felt a touch heavy-handed. Another minor weakness is that the language used by Mattias, a twelve-year-old boy, reads as a bit too sophisticated, too adult. His characterization wobbled here and there, but I suppose that exposure to death does have a way of aging children. Regardless, the narrative never strayed into outright unbelievable territory.

Compelling and evocative, Brailling For Wile isn’t an easy story but it is a worthwhile one. The well-drawn characters, lack of melodrama, and lovely prose make for a quick, intelligent read. I eagerly anticipate reading more of Zerndt’s work in the future.

Sheri Meshal

It's definitely one of my favorite books from one of my favorite authors, a cozy, stimulating and satisfying read.