I’m not generally a reader of mysteries, and frankly, I’m not sure THE BONES OF PARADISE by Jonis Agee can be billed as one. It is a fabulous conglomerate: a family saga, literary fiction, historical fiction, a love story, a western, and a mystery all wrapped into one.
Admittedly, the mystery component of ‘what really happened to JB and Star that fateful day?’ (no spoilers here) kept me turning pages. But what kept me the most rapt was that this novel is told almost exclusively by what ISN’T being said between characters. Jonis Agee’s ability to show intention, thought, and emotion through facial expressions, gestures, and body language is unmatched. I’m still floored.
These characters are painfully flawed and have been wronged and hurt and hurt some more. I could see these people twitch their eyes, hear the breath come from their troubled lips, feel their hesitation and heaviness of heart.
Not only that, the author knows horses, and you will know them, too, by the end of this tale: how gentle and ornery and smart they are; how much finesse is required for human-horse trust. And for that matter, the author understands, intimately, the complexities of human-to-human interaction.
Agee’s descriptions of the stark landscape and the theme of humans’ quest for land were both so emotionally taut. And then, of course, the horrors of Wounded Knee are central to this book (I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as a college student and still shiver thinking about it). This book does such an incredible job of questioning that slippery definition of ‘history,’ based on which ‘side’ is telling the story. The novel sheds some ugly truths about this period in American history that, again, should be required reading for us all.The
THE BONES OF PARADISE by Jonis Agee is a story about mothers and sons, sons and fathers, ambition, greed, desire, the power of evil, the value of hard work. Rich in historical detail, and its own moments of breathtaking beauty, this is a wonderful character-driven novel that will hold you in its grip long after you’ve turned the last page. Love literary historical fiction? This one’s for you.
(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on Mar 15, 2017. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)