Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: Above All Men

Read 1/10/14 - 1/13/14
5 Stars - So Fucking Good / The Next Best Book
259 pages
Publisher: MG Press
Releases: March 2014

When I stop and think about all of the unread books I have stacked in my bookshelves and sitting in my Kindle (currently 674, according to my goodreads shelves), I start to panic at the thought of all the amazing books I'm missing out on and will continue to miss out on, even though they sit right here, right in this house, within a finger's reach.

When I finish my current book, as I reach for the next one, I hesitate a moment and worry that I am not making the right decision. I wonder "what if THIS is not the book I should be reading right now? What if one of the six hundred OTHER books turns out to be THE book and I end up reading THIS book instead?"

But there's really no way to know that, is there? Until you read the book you chose, and then read the next one, and read the one after that, and keep on reading until you finally end up reading one of THE ones. You'll know it's THE one because of the way it grabs you by the throat and slowly starts to choke all of the air out of you... before you reach the end of the first page.

I've only experienced this reaction to a book three other times, that I can remember. First, when I started reading Jose Saramago's Blindness. Then, when I picked up Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Most recently, when I listened to the audio version of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. Interestingly enough, in all three cases, those were the first books I'd read by those authors. (What's even more interesting? Though I've read and enjoyed many of their other titles, none surpassed the visceral reactions I had to those firsts.)

And now I can add Eric Shonkwiler's Above All Men to that list. A book that's been in my e-possession since back in October. Just sitting. Waiting. Silent, as I chose book after book after book over it. Concealing its awesomeness until it finally made its way up to the top of the TBR pile. And as I started to read, every book I'd read before it simply... faded away. I was immediately sucked in. I felt Eric's words like a million little sucker punches. And I knew I was reading THE one.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the intensity (I know that is not the right word, yet my words seem to have left me at the moment) I felt while reading Above All Men matched the intensity I had felt while reading Saramago, McCarthy, and Johnson. You can find elements of them within Shonkwiler's novel - a similar intentionally slow, meandering way of dragging the plot along, sticking to the specifics of the moment and letting the background work itself out without wasting much time or breath on it, keeping the reader on tenterhooks the entire time.

Bathroom breaks? You can hold it, or bring a bucket out there with you. Work in the morning? Who needs sleep, go ahead and read straight through the night. Kindle battery dying? Plug that puppy in and sit against the wall to continue reading as it charges. Because Above All Men is a book you will not find yourself capable of walking away from.

It's a bleak tale of the beginning of the end of the world. Of a family man who feels the weight of everyone's worries on his shoulders. Of this man who, regardless of consequence, is determined to make sure everyone is alright, even if it means hurting the ones he cares about most. It's a tale of survival as much as it is one of destruction. And Shonkwiler pulls it off effortlessly.

It's a killer read. It does all of the things you want it to and some of the things you don't. And that's what makes it so powerful. That's what makes it THE one.


  1. Great post - I love your descriptions of choosing the next book, hoping that it'll be THE ONE!
    Like you, I loved The Road - it was among my top 5 reads in 2013.
    I've just added Above all men, Jesus's son and Blindness to my to-read list on Goodreads - maybe I'll get them for my birthday next month :-)

    1. Awesome. I hope you do get them, and read them, and love them, and share your thoughts on them!

  2. For anyone interested in securing a copy of Above All Men for the pre-order sale, you can reserve a copy right now for only $1 down, which gives you 20% off the cover price in print or digital formats at the book's release: ♥ I second everything in this review, and MG Press makes incredible books, so take advantage of the great sale on the press' website!