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Malcolm Brooks follows up his bestselling debut novel, PAINTED HORSES, with CLOUDMAKER, a family saga set in 1937 Montana --- 10 years after Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight across the ocean, and as the world awaits word of Amelia Earhart’s fate.

Young Houston “Huck” Finn and his cousin, Annelise, are enthralled by both aviators, as they race to produce their own airplane before Huck’s parents discover it. While the elder Finns are hardworking traditionalists, the teens represent the forward-thinking America of invention and adventure. Those adventures, which include Yakima McKee, Huck’s father’s hired hand, revolve around building and flying the plane, and hiding a flight watch --- an invention of Lindbergh’s --- that Huck finds. It was on a dead gangster’s body that he and his friend came across while swimming in the local river. Naturally, the gangster’s cohorts will stop at nothing to get that watch back. But why?

"The book veers back and forth between the secular and the sacred, though it’s clear where Brooks’ sympathies lie."

The 450-page novel is narrated from the point of view of several characters, which adds perspective to the story while also making the plot lines harder to follow. Still, the protagonists are vividly portrayed. There’s 14-year-old Huck/Houston, who’s earnest and effortlessly brilliant; Annelise, who’s canny and plucky, with a reckless streak that caused her mother to banish her to her cousin’s place in Montana; and McKee, who has a wonderful backstory that gives him more gravitas than is immediately apparent. Huck’s father is indulgent but realistic, while his mother, Annelise’s aunt, lives by her religious convictions. The book veers back and forth between the secular and the sacred, though it’s clear where Brooks’ sympathies lie.

What’s less clear is where the reader’s focus should be. Is the story about the relationship between Huck and his family, or the significance of man’s desire to conquer the skies? And what about the gangsters, whose shenanigans take up much of the middle part of the novel? Or Huck’s love interest, who disappears more than halfway through the book? Or Annelise’s conquests?

At the end of CLOUDMAKER, when Annelise finds herself up in a plane on a life-or-death mission, the flight becomes a symbol of all the hope and mystery that each character lives with and for. Whether it’s enough to propel the reader through the preceding pages depends on one’s patience and belief.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on March 26, 2021

by Malcolm Brooks

  • Publication Date: March 15, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 080215946X
  • ISBN-13: 9780802159465