Praise for rode
“Both an odyssey and a great love story, rode is made compelling by its thoughtful hero and the surprising woman he longs for. Precise language and authentic detail render a vivid sense of another time, and Averill’s Southern landscape, so beautifully drawn, is peopled with unforgettable men and women.”
—Laura Moriarty, author of The Center of Everything.
“No one drives a narrative better than Thomas Fox Averill, and this novel version of a grand American tale shows Tom Averill’s skills at their best. rode performs not only through action but the perfect articulation of 19th Century Arkansas and Tennessee. Averill knows the lingo, blunt, uncompromising, and accurate, from saddle trees to foals, and even to a dauncy mare, a wonderful allusion to the author’s Scottish heritage and ours. This is complicated evocation of character, yes, in Robert Johnson, Jo Benson, and others; but even more, Thomas Averill’s narrative rides evocative language like a great stud horse.”
—Robert Stewart, author of Outside Language: Essays, editor, New Letters magazine.
"The French say that the first duty of a wine is to be red. And I say the first duty of a novel is to tell a good story. Thomas Fox Averill’s rode passes the test with ease and speed: His is an historical tale of romance, villains, heroes, youth, horses, horse thieves, murder, mules, revenge, redemption … and more. And all concocted from the words of a sad country song. The characters drink corn whiskey, but I raise my Bordeaux glass in Tom’s honor."
—Robert Day, author of The Last Cattle Drive and Speaking French in Kansas.
“Thomas Fox Averill’s rode is a rollicking ride through the American West, 1825. Averill’s narrative is a bountiful mix of popular song, Western mythos, episodic adventure, travelogue, folk-tale, and good old-fashioned storytelling. And like the best work of John Steinbeck, Averill’s narrative entertains and informs. His is a multi-cultural vision, full of wonder. At the novel’s center is Robert Johnson, a thoughtful young man, falsely accused of murder, forced from the garden to wander in the wilderness, but he never lapses into angst and despair. Instead, he maintains his youthful idealism and enthusiasm in the face of very trying circumstances. Johnson not only endures, he triumphs. And so does Averill. This is one heartfelt, authentic, and honest portrayal of love and life and the dreams that sustain us. A must read.”
—Grant Tracey, editor, North American Review.
“Sequels seldom match the appeal of the original, while after-the-fact back stories are even less successful. But Thomas Fox Averill's rode, which fleshes out fully the plot line of Jimmie Driftwood's "Tennessee Stud," is a rare, welcome, and masterful exception. In this carefully crafted novel, Averill has produced a compelling chronicle of the adventures of the heroes (man and horse) on their journey from Tennessee to Arkansas to Texas to Mexico and back. The well chosen title implies ‘road’ as well as the hard riding Robert Johnson does. Along the way we meet characters whose lives could provide grist for novels of their own.”
—Jim Hoy, author of Flint Hills Cowboys, editor of Cowboy’s Lament, A Life on the Open Range, by Frank Maynard.
Reviews by readers
From Amazon, reader review by Alyssa R. Wright:
I've always loved the song "Tennessee Stud," and clearly, so has Thomas Fox Averill. In Rode, he takes the song --a masterpiece of economic and riveting storytelling-- and fleshes it out into a fully-realized novel. Averill does a fantastic job of expanding the song's narrator into the richly complex and human character of Robert Johnson, and fleshing out the story of his flight from trouble, his home and his woman in Tennessee, his journey westward towards Mexico and eventually home again. Johnson makes this ride on the back of (and in the company of) his peerless horse, The Stud, who is as much the star of this story as Johnson himself.
I consider this book a great success, in large part because Averill has done such an incredible job expanding upon the source material while managing to honor and preserve its tone--and in particular the beautiful, eloquent spareness of the song's storytelling style. You can hear the song in your head as you read, and trust me, it will be going through your head for weeks. :) However, I think that Averill's greatest achievement here is the way in which he has preserved the sense of The Stud as both a flesh and blood horse AND something more, something legendary and near-supernatural in its power, sensitivity, intellect and all around special-ness. The Stud never stops seeming like the kind of animal that is unequivocally ballad-worthy, both a horse and much more than a horse.
I highly recommend this book, as well as Averill's others. He never fails to knock it out of the park.
From Goodreads, by my older brother Tim, who is always right!
Tom Averill has added another star to his imaginative constellation with RODE, a lush extrapolation of the lyrics of the classic "Tennessee Stud." Tom's interpretation is part ODYSSEY (in which his protagonist is both Odysseus leaving and returning home AND Telemachus making peace with his father), part Orpheus and Eurydice (going through Hell to recover a woman), and part Bildungsroman (as Robert Johnson is educated by sages and sinners). Tom is a master storyteller, skillfully weaving historical fact (the developing West in "about 1825") with a narrative that consistently entertains and also surprises the reader. Although his diction can be described as Hemingway-esque, "They named things as though they were the first to invent the words," Averill's world view is more nuanced and gray than Hemingway's black and white vision. There are great descriptions of the early development of Memphis, the settling of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and the efforts of the missionaries in Texas and Mexico. It's a rough world that Robert Johnson inhabits, yet Averill has his protagonist maintain a kind of hardened innocence and faith in his mission, despite the odds that he faces. And he is guided by many mentors who are marked more by their generosity and humanity than by adherence to religious creed or political or economic beliefs.
In a career that has included two brilliant coming of age novels (Secrets of the Tsil Cafe and The Slow Air of Ewan McPherson) as well as the short story "Some Small Talk, Sweet Talk, from Will Parr to the World," Tom Averill's RODE is the novel in which the protagonist has indeed come of age and yet maintained his essential faith in humanity and his innocence. Averill's writing and underlying philosophy have matured, and his calm and resolution are evident throughout the novel, even in the passages that could lead lesser authors to engage in political or social criticism. It is fitting that an author in his sixties would achieve this sort of vision. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will not comment on the plot, except to say that the last 50 pages of the novel seemed to be written with an urgency to finish and resolve that were not present in the first 150 pages, which were more luxuriantly developed. This reader appreciated the pacing of the novel which created complicated situations and then set the consequences in motion with ever-increasing speed. Having grown up with Tom Averill, I have delighted as each of his works has shown that growth, understanding, and wisdom can be the result of hard work, sensitivity to the struggles of the human condition, and a magnanimous world view that is not restricted by limited vision. And it's a hell of a read!
Return to home page