The Angels’ Share
by James Markert
It is hard to pigeonhole The Angels’ Share in the sense of literary category, theme, or purpose. The author, James Markert, has a history degree and categorizes The Angels’ Share as “commercial fiction set during historical times.” The publisher classifies it as both General Fiction (Adult) and Christian. Four major threads compete for attention–the Depression, Prohibition, the bourbon industry, and a confusing Christlike figure.
Times are particularly hard in the fictional town of Twisted Tree where Prohibition has raised unemployment levels due to the closing of the distillery. The family that owned the distillery mysteriously seems to fare well financially, but there are dark tones to their story.
Homeless people play a major role in this novel, as in almost any tale of this era. One, in particular, stands out: Asher Keating, who has already passed away when the story begins. A much decorated war hero who saved the lives of hundreds of fellow soldiers, he quietly accumulates a following as he roams around healing, feeding the hungry, and providing clothing. Is he Jesus fulfilling the second coming? Is he a guardian angel? Is he a lunatic?
The title The Angels’ Share emphasizes both the process of making bourbon and the religious and philosophical questions posed. According to the author, angels’s share is “the quantity of whisky lost to evaporation during the aging process.” Tradition says that distillers share their bourbon with the angels as an offering so they will protect the distillery from fire.
The Angels’ Share is a very different book and a worthy read. The characters and their struggles are interesting. The setting, both locale and time, are essential to the plot. I don’t consider it to be a “Christian” book because it doesn’t follow Biblical tenants and prophecies. It does have religion and relationship to God as thematic elements, and it does provoke thought about God, the homeless, and gifted individuals. The Angels’ Share is well-written with its complex threads telling a story with depth. The dialogue is appropriate to the era with lots of slang that has fallen out of popular usage, giving a realistic touch to conversations. The relationships of the various characters result in an interesting web as they move in and out of each others’ lives. There is even a romance that is integral to the plot, but does not dominate it. As The Angels’ Share concludes, many questions are answered about the characters, but others are appropriately left to the reader to ponder.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Publication: January 17, 2017 — Thomas Nelson
Notes: I was intrigued, but not surprised, that the passages I highlighted as I read this book mostly deal with Asher Keating, the Christlike figure. There are many selections that made comparisons with or echoed Biblical text; they lead the reader to pose questions about Keating and his purpose on Earth.
Hope can change even the most stubborn of men.
In the author’s historical notes: …there are now more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky than people.