Bright’s Passage, the debut novel from singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, was published in June last year, but since then Ritter has voiced his own audiobook, with an accompanying score composed by Royal City Band bassist Zachariah Hickman. Mine came in the post today & I was delighted to find a bonus music CD in with the rest.
But on to the book itself.
Henry Bright is a WWI veteran who returns from the war to his native West Virginia, alone, except for an angel who follows him back from France, instructing him in what he has to do for the wellbeing of humankind. He has a newborn son, whom the angel claims is the Future King of Heaven. The narrative begins with the death of Bright’s wife and the angel’s instruction that Bright bury her quickly and then burn down the house. (Chapter 1 of Bright’s Passage is free to download from Josh Ritter’s website here, and to hear some famous and infamous friends of Ritter reading it aloud, click here).
The strengths of the prose are the occasional descriptions that capture moments perfectly. When you read this novel, take note of Ritter’s similes — I couldn’t find one that wasn’t ideal:
Here, I think, Josh Ritter’s musical background shines through his prose in the most positive sense. These descriptions are just a few that I picked out at random and illustrate the power of storytelling that he has. (The Twitter for Bright’s Passage does this too!)
More than anything, the end is one of the strongest aspects of the book. At first, the storyline — a man called on by an angel (presumably, by extension, God) to raise the next King of Heaven — worried me that I was about to start a religion-heavy novel that would read and end like the Bible. Interestingly, the end of Bright’s Passage works against that idea, but still leaves room for a biblically inflected story that develops beyond the scope of the narrative. Ritter leaves it up to the reader to decide how the story really ends. And it will be a lovely experience to hear the author himself read it aloud.
I’ll leave the last note for Josh himself.
I’ve been listening to audio books ever since I was a child. Thrillers, classics, sci-fi, history, mystery, bodice-rippers, seat-grippers, swash-bucklers, hard-boilers, noir, fantasy, short stories, pop-psychs, biographies, hagiographies and travelogues, if I could get my hands on a recorded book, I devoured it.
Maybe it goes back to the cavemen telling stories around a fire. Maybe it has something to do with the way my parents read to my brother and me when we were small. Maybe it’s just about wanting to close my eyes and have the world of the story wash over me. Maybe it’s all those things. As I’ve gotten older my audio book habit has grown to the point where I’ll probably listen to twenty of them year in addition to my music and reading habit.
One of the most exciting things about publishing Bright’s Passage was realizing that I could record the audio book if I wanted to. So, this past February, I flew to Detroit and did just that.
To accompany my (stellar) narration, Zack Hickman wrote a beautiful, heartbreaking score. I also collected five songs that I’ve written involving angels and recorded them with my friends Chris Thile, Tift Merritt and Josh Kaufman.
Writing Bright’s Passage was so exciting and entertaining and fun. Getting to record it as an audio book has only added to that adventure. I hope you enjoy it!