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Book Review: Breath Like the Wind at Dawn by Devin Jacobsen

Publication Date: June 2020

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Breath Like the Wind at Dawn is set during and right after the American Civil War and tells the story of the Tamplin family. Outlaw twins Quinn and Irving make a living stealing and, well, being outlaws. Their brother, Edward runs from his dark past. Their mother, Annora, has been abandoned by her family and is left to defend their haunted Minnesota homestead. And, at the heart of the story is Les, patriarch of the Tamplins and Civil War veteran. Oh, did I mention he's also the sheriff of Utica who has an insatiable need to strangle people?

Breath Like the Wind at Dawn has been likened to Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and McCarthy's Blood Meridian, so naturally I was excited to read it. The multi-perspective family dynamic was reminiscent of Faulkner's 1930s classic and has the violent poetic prose of Blood Meridian.

I enjoyed Devin Jacobsen's writing style, as his poetic prose grips the reader and transports her into the Civil War era. His descriptions of the Midwestern plains are beautiful, though I felt that at some times his style detracted from the overall novel. Some chapters are difficult to understand, especially in the beginning. The characters have not had a chance to be introduced, and I was left wondering, who is talking right now? This may be my own reader error, but this book is definitely not one I flew through with ease.

The novel picks up after the first quarter, when we get first person point of view from Les, the patriarch of the Tamplin family. He is fighting in the Civil War, and at the same time fighting the uncontrollable urge to strangle his victims. After leaving the military, he has killed almost three hundred people. He moves on to different towns, forgetting about his family, only focused on his need to kill people. Later, he becomes sheriff of Utica, and we continue to see his first person narration of his killing spree.

Sadly, I feel that Les is one of the only characters that is fully fleshed out. We see his actions, and get a first-hand account of why he does these things. The other characters feel almost like afterthoughts. I almost wish that the story was just about Les, I think I might have enjoyed it a bit more. It was hard to jump from character to character, story to story.

I will say that it is an extremely graphic read, and deals with issues of domestic abuse, rape, murder, death, and violence. This book may not be for everyone.

Jessica Purgett is a recent Summa Cum Laude graduate of Mount Mercy University. She is the founder and editor of The Mark Literary Review.

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