Josh Ritter’s Bright’s Passage tells the story of Henry Bright, who returns from military service in World War I to steal away his “wife,” Rachel, and reclaim his mother’s dilapidated cabin the West Virginia mountains. Guided by his horse, an “angel,” Bright sets fire to the cabin after his wife dies giving birth to his son, The King of Heaven. At least, that’s who the child is, according to “Mr. Ed,” you know, the talking horse. As the blaze spreads to become a true forest fire, Bright and his son escape, thanks to the horse and the goat (who later speaks as well).
Hot on his trail is Bright’s father-in-law, a crazy “colonel” from a previous war, and his two evil sons, who aim to give Bright a dose of his own medicine; they want to steal his son the way Bright stole Rachel.
The most convincing scenes in this book take place as Bright remembers his army days, the trenches where men fall all around him and war takes its savage toll. Less authentic are the scenes where Bright carries his newborn son, feeds him with goat’s milk from his fingertips and dips the child into a mountain stream to clean his soiled diapers.
Ritter made a name for himself as a singer/songwriter, and his music has been compared to Bruce Springsteen’s. He has what agents call a “platform,” a ready-made audience for his books. Those who enjoy his music may very well enjoy this debut novel.