Published by Henry Holt and Co. on July 8, 2014
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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It's 1980 at a crowded amphitheater in Queens, New York and a nervous Josiah Laudermilk, age 12, is about to step to the stage while thousands of believers wait to hear him, the boy preaching prodigy, pour forth. Suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, Josiah's nerves shake away and his words come rushing out, his whole body fills to the brim with the certainty of a strange apocalyptic vision. But is it true prophecy or just a young believer's imagination running wild? Decades later when Josiah (now Josie) is grown and has long since left the church, he returns to Queens to care for his father who, day by day, is losing his grip on reality. Barreling through the old neighborhood, memories of the past--of his childhood friend Issy, of his first love, of the mother he has yet to properly mourn--overwhelm him at every turn. When he arrives at his family's old house, he's completely unprepared for what he finds. How far back must one man journey to heal a broken bond between father and son?
In rhapsodic language steeped in the oral tradition of American evangelism, Scott Cheshire brings us under his spell. Remarkable in scale--moving from 1980 Queens, to sunny present-day California, to a tent revival in nineteenth century rural Kentucky--and shot-through with the power and danger of belief and the love that binds generations, High as the Horses' Bridles is a bold, heartbreaking debut from a big new American voice.
High as the Horses’ Bridles follows the Laudermilks, a family obsessed with the end of days. At the age of twelve and already known as a talented boy preacher, their only son, Josiah, stands before his church and shares an apocalyptic vision in which he declares that the end of days will occur in the year 2000. Not long after, Josie begins to doubt the validity of his own prophecy.
This novel is an interesting look into the high hopes and enormous pressure that come along with being raised in a fundamentalist household. Cheshire uses all three family members to bring the reader right into the crushing, overwhelming feelings that accompany these expectations: Josie’s coming of age and struggles with faith, his father’s mental unraveling, and his mother’s fight against cancer. I couldn’t help but be struck by the characters’ sincerity and at times, even their tenderness, which make the events in the novel all the more heartbreaking.
So much about this story exposes how false the teachings of their church are, how twisted their views. But High as the Horses’ Bridles isn’t as much a scathing commentary on fundamentalism as it is a look into how multifaceted people are, the reasons why they hold potentially damaging beliefs so close, why they keep coming back for more, and how difficult it is to break free from a legalistic culture. There is also a twist at the end of the book which not only ties in with the Laudermilk family, but gives readers a look into the early days of American apocalyptic movements.
There is so much more I could say about this novel! It would make a fantastic book club read; there are endless angles to explore. I also couldn’t help but be reminded of the importance of nonfiction titles like Faith Unraveled by Sarah Held Evans, The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing, and Salvation on the Small Screen and Pastrix by Nadia-Bolz Weber.