Summary and book reviews of The Bully of Order by Brian Hart

The Bully of Order

A Novel

by Brian Hart

The Bully of Order by Brian Hart
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in a logging town on the lawless Pacific coast of Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century, a spellbinding novel of fate and redemption—told with a muscular lyricism and filled with a cast of characters Shakespearean in scope—in which the lives of an ill-fated family are at the mercy of violent social and historical forces that tear them apart.

Keen to make his fortune, Jacob Ellstrom, armed with his medical kit and new wife, Nell, lands in The Harbor—a mud-filled, raucous coastal town teeming with rough trade pioneers, sawmill laborers, sailors, and prostitutes. But Jacob is not a doctor, and a botched delivery exposes his ruse, driving him onto the streets in a plunge towards alcoholism. Alone, Nell scrambles to keep herself and their young son, Duncan, safe in this dangerous world. When a tentative reunion between the couple—in the company of Duncan and Jacob's malicious brother, Matius—results in tragedy, Jacob must flee town to elude being charged with murder.

Years later, the wild and reckless Duncan seems to be yet another of The Harbor's hoodlums. His only salvation is his overwhelming love for Teresa Boyerton, the daughter of the town's largest mill owner. But disaster will befall the lovers with heartbreaking consequences.

And across town, Bellhouse, a union boss and criminal rabble-rouser, sits at the helm of The Harbor's seedy underbelly, perpetuating a cycle of greed and violence. His thug Tartan directs his pack of thieves, pimps, and murderers, and conceals an incendiary secret involving Duncan's mother. As time passes, a string of calamitous events sends these characters hurtling towards each other in an epic collision that will shake the town to its core.

The Bully of Order
An excerpt from the novel by Brian Hart

Bigness required boundaries but this water had none save the shore we stood upon and the end of my eyeball's reach.

Fourth of July, 1895

The ferry was coming special because it was the Fourth of July. Some of the kids from school were there but I stayed apart from them and threw handfuls of sawdust into the water and watched it drift and spiral and sink. Ben and Joseph McCandliss showed up and no one wanted to play with them, either. They were orphans now since their father had been sent to the penitentiary in Seattle. I remembered when my father left me and Mother when I was little. He came back but he still wasn't around very often. Mother sometimes called him the boarder. Ben and I were both eleven years old and would be in the same class if Ben went to school. Joseph was fourteen and had already, more than once, spent the night in jail. Miss Travois had taken them in but I'd heard they didn't sleep ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Bully of Order resonates for its strong theme of sons cursed to repeat their fathers' mistakes. The violent, doom-laden atmosphere brings Cormac McCarthy to mind. The novel's very title portrays Fate (Order) as a cruel taskmaster, an idea echoed in the first-person plural narration: "There's an engine in the heart of the world, and it's built to kill us." Yet Nell offers Duncan – and readers – a more hopeful perspective: "No matter what happens…you get to choose how you act. In the end that might be all the choice you'll ever get, but it's a lot."   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (766 words).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

Not a writer of half-measures, Hart brilliantly re-creates the rugged life in the Pacific Northwest logging camps of the 1890s. A riveting, powerful tale.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Hart's sense of place is brilliant…think the brutal realities of McCarthy's Blood Meridian set among the primeval forests of the Pacific Northwest frontier.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A brilliant second novel… Hart’s prose is dense and lyrically savage.

Author Blurb Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds
Brian Hart's The Bully of Order does what only the best works of fiction can do: it brilliantly imagines those parts of life that history all too often fails to record. This is a thoroughly engrossing story told in mesmerizing prose. I highly recommend it.

Author Blurb Philipp Meyer, author of The Son
After a relatively quiet debut, Brian Hart has come back with a stunning second novel-a work would qualify as a lifetime achievement for most writers. You do not have to read very far to see that Brian Hart has vaulted squarely into the first rank of American novelists.

Author Blurb James Magnuson, author of The Hounds of Winter
Brian Hart writes like a dream. In this haunting, often brutal tale of failed fathers and abandoned sons, set in the logging industry a century ago, are scenes of aching beauty.

Author Blurb Amanda Coplin, author of The Orchardist
Mesmerizing…Hart has conjured a singular, searing world. When you step into this novel you submit to its dream… you believe in his large gift that leaves you stunned and breathless. A wonderful, unique portrait of a particular landscape I now see anew.

Author Blurb John Dufresne, author of No Regrets, Coyote
An epic novel of violence, depravity, and mayhem…Brian Hart writes like Cormac McCarthy in overdrive. What talent, what nerve, what a wondrous and spellbinding book. The Bully of Order is part creation myth, part apocalyptic thriller, and it's peopled with charlatans, swindlers, and murderers who will haunt your dreams.

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Beyond the Book

Washington's Logging Industry

Timber has been a key industry for Washington state since the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees once filled a tract of land from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean. Seattle and the Puget Sound area provided much of the lumber that was shipped down to California.

Logging in Washington state Logging operations were often small, coastal outposts started by a handful of men who banded together to cut down the trees in their area. Sustainable logging was not a concern in those days; profit was the sole consideration. Some lumber yards grew larger, into towns or cities, but often retained a lawless, macho atmosphere, as is the case with the harbor town in Brian Hart's The Bully of Order. Saloons and ...

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