Bright's Passage

Sheet Music

Phases & Stages

Bright's Passage

by Josh Ritter
Dial Press, 193 pp., $22

Crossing over from singer-songwriter to novelist isn't the stretch of going from to composer to physicist, but it's a leap nonetheless. For instance, Josh Ritter's raucously stomping short stories masquerading as songs (his specialty) compress storytelling rather than expand it. In his long-form debut, Bright's Passage, Ritter explores magical realism through Henry Bright, a West Virginia orphan attached to an angel dispensing sometimes life-saving, sometimes devastating advice. It's a small story aiming to be universal in scope, but Ritter's far too focused on detail to master the nuances of narrative. Lovely moments, such as Bright's World War I comrades fantasizing about eating steak with oyster mushrooms after the Armistice, are offset by a painfully predictable climax in an inferno of Bright's own making. What's more, many of Ritter's gestures feel gimmicky and better suited to a song, such as a baby named the Future King of Heaven. The thirtysomething author shows a talent for spinning a somewhat ripping yarn, but sometimes being a world-class pop star is enough. (Josh Ritter reads and autographs at BookPeople Wednesday, Oct. 5, 7pm.)

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