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Reviews

KIRKUS REVIEW

TITLE INFORMATION

THE SECOND BORN
The Dead Giants
Arnold Robinson
Xlibris (462 pp.)
$18.99 paperback
ISBN: 978-1-5245-7561-8; January 27, 2017

BOOK REVIEW

A young boy reflects on his father, his family, and the hard work of farming in rural Ohio in this debut novel.After years of following his volatile father from one dilapidated living situation to another, the young Arnold RayRadcliff hopes that their family might have finally found a permanent situation. All spring he and his brother, James,have helped their dad lay down tobacco crops. The gregarious old farmer they work for, Winfield Cox, slowly revealshimself to be a positive role model for the boys, inspiring them to work hard, rewarding them with his own money, andtelling them how to reach the ice cold waters of a local spring. Meanwhile, their father, a reverend who prefers to becalled simply Brother Jim, is slowly revealed to have a terrible alcohol problem that has devastated family members overand over and left them waiting in welfare lines at the beginning of each month. Despite his father’s preaching andinsistence on following God’s word, Arnold Ray often thinks of Dad less as a spiritual leader and more as the devilhimself. With Mr. Cox’s offer to sell Brother Jim his farm, Arnold Ray sees the potential for their family to finally getahead. He spies his father praying more fervently than ever, but Arnold Ray soon realizes the specters of alcoholism,abuse, and poverty will haunt the family no matter what appeals are answered. In his book, the first installment of aseries following this troubled family, Robinson dives straight into the intricate world of Arnold Ray. The boy’s internalmonologue skillfully catalogs the small, devastating realities of poverty, like his relief at not being the neediest one in thewelfare line and the stale odor of urine coming from his drunken father’s room. Despite these vivid details, the actualstory never produces an equally engrossing arc for Arnold Ray. The constant disappointments of his father and long daysof labor start to blur together with no end in sight. Nevertheless, the stage is well set for further, more excitinginstallments.

A slow coming-of-age story, but one that creates a truly immersive world.


Clarion Review

The Second Born
Arnold Robinson
Xlibris (Jan 27, 2017)
Softcover $18.97 (462pp)
978-1-5245-7561-8

Second Born is a richly detailed and cleverly crafted depiction of American life.

Arnold Robinson’s Second Born is a classical-feeling work of historical fiction that centers on twentieth century American life.The novel is set in the early 1960s, and features a family on the cusp of debt and loss. It spends much time focusing on the family’s moves around America, and their everyday lives as farmers. The central story begins with a possible deal between the family patriarch, Jim, and a man named Mr. Cox. With the family deep in money issues after a dreadful winter, their best hope is to work Mr. Cox’s tobacco crop.The story is told through the point of view of Jim’s son, Arnold Ray, who is often abused by his father. His only solace comes from memories with his brother, James–like of trips to the woods, and of seeing the elusive “dead giant” for which the novel is named.Their tight friendship under the tyrannical rule of their father is explored meaningfully, and adds a layer of emotion and depth to the story.Each of the characters feels fleshed out and unique: Arnold’s father is abusive, and thus Arnold has to live with tormenting punishment; their mother shares much of the mistreatment; and James, much like Arnold himself, dreams of having a more stable life. Arnold and James in particular find their story lines propelled by strong goals and motivations that help to round them out. It is easy to sympathize with their sad situations.The first person narration makes the story and characters feel close. Everything is easy to visualize, though there are instances of telling instead of showing, which somewhat hinder enjoyment of the storytelling itself.Sharp and image-driven scenes are more easily understood, while details about the farm and crops paint a detailed world. The novel succeeds at illustrating the familiarity of farm life, from events like James getting his driver’s license all the way to their mother’s pregnancy with their brother.The writing style is clear and purposeful. Characters have a particular way of speaking that adds an organic layer of world-building: “hafta” instead of “have to,” “we sanged” instead of “we sang.” Events seem strung together at times, which slows the pacing, and chapters are often overly lengthy.Second Born is a cleverly crafted depiction of American life. It is rich in detail and explores coming into one’s own through a tough adolescence.
SASHA NANUA (May 17, 2017)


Blueink Review

The Second Born: The Dead Giants, Book 1
Arnold Robinson
Xlibris, 455 pages, (paperback) $18.99, 9781524575618
(Reviewed: May 2017)

Rural southern Ohio is the setting for Arnold Robinson’s coming-of-age story involving narrator Arnold Ray Richardson, the second of nine children.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Arnold Ray and his older brother, James, endure the hardships of living in poverty with a loving, saint-like mother and a father who teeters between sobriety as a self-proclaimed preacher and a ne’er-do-well drunkard.

The family’s dread of their father “backsliding” is profound and palpable. The ability to keep their home, have food on the table and maintain a semblance of a happy family life all depend on the elder Richardson’s ability to stay sober. Arnold Ray’s disgust for his father’s bad habits mounts as the fear of losing the family farm looks increasingly possible.

Along with strong character development, the author’s descriptions of the land and the boys’ tribulations and occasional joys are engaging. It’s easy to visualize the family farm, dusty roads and hardscrabble lifestyle. “At the edge of one particular field,” Robinson writes, “there was a patch of strawberries. There were so many that you could see them from a pretty good distance, small berries, some no bigger than a fingernail but sweeter than sugar.”

It’s more difficult to believe young Arnold Ray’s bawdy vocabulary. He’s portrayed as a good kid who loves his mother and has a strong work ethic. The frequent cussing seems out of sync with his nature. Additionally, the use of country dialect is inconsistent. “Baccer” and “winder” (for “tobacco” and “window”) are used frequently, but other evidence of dialect is curiously scant.

These are minor distractions overall. Although Robinson’s book is labeled a work of fiction, the similarities of his name and author bio to his main character suggest otherwise. Perhaps that’s why his narrative about making the best from next to nothing is so vivid. With its unresolved conclusion, the novel will prompt many to pick up the sequel.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.


THE SECOND BORN:
The Reverend’s Ways

Kirkus Review

Two brothers struggle to take responsibility for their father’s sawmill and their family in the unruly world of Appalachia. Following the first book in his series, Robinson’s (The Second Born: The Dead Giants, 2017) sequel returns to the Appalachian Mountains to trace the coming-of-age of young Arnold Ray Radcliff and his brother, James. They are the children of a volatile alcoholic struggling to keep his sawmill working. This tale opens with Arnold Ray finally venting the rebellion brewing inside him as he begins standing up to Bill McCoy, another man toiling at his father’s mill. While the boys come off as playful but serious workers, the men around them are debilitated drunks, like Bill or Calvin Williams. Each one walks around “yanking his pants zipper up with one hand while holding a chainsaw in the other.” But the real division exists between the boys and their father. Abusive, terrible to their mother, and prone to disappearances, their father doesn’t deserve the title of “Dad” anymore, Arnold Ray decides early on (“I wasn’t waiting for Dad to get home but instead for the old man now”). Incident after incident puts him and his father in further conflict, as “the old man” continues to push religion on the boys, exposing his hypocrisy and driving them away, with Arnold Ray realizing he couldn’t hate anything more than hearing him pray. These tensions all build until a tragic accident threatens to displace Arnold Ray and his family and make their world even more unstable. Robinson imbues every moment of dialogue in his story with touches from Appalachia: tobacco becomes “backer” and tomorrow, “tomar.” Instead of coming off as cheesy or patronizing, these additions feel honest. Much like the young character of Arnold Ray, whose simmering adolescent emotions never seem forced but quite realistic even when they erupt suddenly into violence or back talk over something as mundane as a car or as stirring as a childhood pet. The downside to this roller coaster is that between confrontations, the tale slows down, hitting long strides of quotidian Appalachian life that can kill the momentum of the intriguing father-son battle. But, even then, there is a charming authenticity to the author’s point of view concerning this particular place and culture.

Accurate, convincing dialogue brings a colorful cast of characters to life, but the story sometimes loses sight of the father-son relationship at its core.

Clarion Review

With its fantastic dialogue and accents, straightforward prose, and solid characterization, Arnold’s story shines.

Arnold Robinson’s The Reverend’s Ways is a semiautobiographical portrayal of a 1950s Appalachian mountain logging family struggling to get by, as seen  through the eyes of a boy transitioning into adulthood. The second book in the Second Born series continues Arnold Ray’s story. This time around, Arnold and his
brother are swept up into laboring on the family’s logging operation—felling trees, transporting them for processing, and preparing for sale. The family patriarch, a sulfur-and-brimstone preacher turned philandering drunk, has other plans. Despite disappearing for days and taking most of the family’s money with him, he rules over the operation with an iron fist. As Arnold matures, he finds himself drawn into confronting his father in the hopes of saving his family and their livelihood.

The Reverend’s Ways is a deceptively simple story. The overall arc follows Arnold’s day-to-day life as he works alongside his brother in the logging operation. But the quality of writing paints such a vivid picture that the story becomes much more powerful and emotive.

A key example comes through Arnold’s relationship with the animals on farm, namely Sam, a deaf mule. His father and a despicable employee mistreat Sam nearly to the point of death. As Arnold has tirelessly cared for Sam, and knows just how to finagle him to function as a work horse, he is nearly shattered by the mistreatment. The crux of the story revolves around Arnold, the deaf mule, and his father, with the fate of the family hanging in the balance. Various characters speak with an Appalachian accent that is captured perfectly. Occasionally, words seem nonsensical or out of place, but as the characters speak more, context becomes clear. The voices become even more captivating and feel like recorded audio taken right from the scene.

This helps ground the story and inject humor and realism into its proceedings. A new employee, Calvin, personifies this beautifully with his off-color stories, randy jokes at his own expense, and blossoming respect and admiration for Arnold and his brother. Much of this long novel rehashes or expands upon events and thoughts shared previously, which bogs the story down.

The Reverend’s Ways is a slice-of-life drama that pits a young man against his scheming father in the hopes of saving his mother and siblings from poverty. With its fantastic dialogue and accents, straightforward prose, and solid characterization, Arnold’s story shines.
JOHN M. MURRAY (May 8, 2017)

The Second Born:
The Reverend’s Ways, Book 2

Blueink Review

Author Arnold Robinson has lived in the White Mountains of Arizona for three decades, but his childhood roots are in the harsh Appalachian region of southern Ohio. This is where he sets this eloquent and highly atmospheric tale about life in a bone-crushing sawmill and the toxic relationship of a cruel, bigoted father and his two embattled sons, who seem always on the edge of violent retribution or madness.

The villain, known as “Jimbo” or “the old man,” is at once a preacher, a philanderer and a drunkard, given to fits of blind rage directed at his long-suffering wife (who’s the picture of blackberry cobbler-baking, Bible-quoting saintliness) and his boys James and Arnold Ray (our narrator), who slave endlessly at the mill only to be abused by their sneery, gun-toting father. Not surprisingly, everyone has blood in his eye—including the deputy scoundrel Bill McCoy, who torments the brothers’ beloved pack mules and has all the empathy of a tree stump.

Robinson shows off a keen ear for his “baccer-smokin’” antagonists’ backwoods dialect (“I see that old man of yern hain’t kilt ye”), a classic grasp of Oedipal melodrama and, best of all, the gift for providing a nearly perfect moral centerpiece: His earthy, pipe-smoking lumberjack Calvin Williams, who hires on as a workmate at the mill, combines the woodsy skills of a Paul Bunyan with the rough wisdom of a country poet. “[B]ig and crazy as he acted…he had a kind heart about him,” Arnold observes.

The author, who is writing a series of these Second Born volumes, has a faint weakness for sentimentality (the boys’ mother is fairy tale-virtuous), and his otherwise admirable rustic lexicon might deploy a few too many “milkin’ sheds” and “Whiskey Hollers.” But Robinson is a sure-handed creator of vivid, authentic regional fiction who has attained the highest compliment any reader can bestow: It’s just like being there.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.