Bright’s Passage – Josh Ritter

Henry Bright has newly returned to West Virginia from the battlefields of the First World War.

Griefstruck by the death of his young wife and unsure of how to care for the infant son she left behind, Bright is soon confronted by the destruction of the only home he’s ever known. His hopes for safety rest with the angel who has followed him to Appalachia from the trenches of France and who now promises to protect him and his son.

Haunted by the abiding nightmare of his experiences in the war and shadowed by his dead wife’s father, the Colonel, and his two brutal sons, Bright—along with his newborn—makes his way through a ravaged landscape toward an uncertain salvation.
 

A Letter from Author Josh Ritter


© Marcelo Biglia

The central premise of Bright’s Passage is that an angel has followed young Henry Bright home from the senseless carnage of the First World War. The book follows Bright during three significant periods in his life, braiding the scenes together finally to portray a young man attempting to meet the greatest challenge of his life: returning home. The angel, perhaps a capricious refugee from the painted ceiling of a shelled French church, perhaps the dream-like manifestation of Henry Bright’s own shell-shocked mind, nevertheless takes up residence in Henry’s horse, and it is through their time with one another and the journey they take together that Bright attempts to find peace, not simply for himself, but if the angel is correct, for the entire world.

War always brims with bloody inscrutability, but the First World War mated the ferocious absurdity of human nature with unprecedented leaps of technological capability to birth a new and monstrous kind of world-striding warfare that for the first time in history seemed capable of wiping away whole civilizations. It was this conflict–the seeming ability of man to spin the world and yet just as easily be spun by it–that drew me to the time period surrounding the First World War, and that gave me my first glimpse of Henry Bright, a man caught up in a whirlwind he is unable to understand or control.

Though continuously pestered by the angel, upon returning home to West Virginia Henry attempts to put the abattoir of his time in France behind him by marrying his childhood friend Rachel and having a baby with her. When Rachel dies in childbirth however, Henry finds himself beset by new and present vagaries even as he attempts to understand the ones he has already come through. A wildfire, Rachel’s vengeful family, and his struggle to protect his newborn son from both now drive Henry Bright, his horse, his goat and his tiny infant into the wilderness in a desperate attempt to finally find peace.

Ultimately, Bright’s Passage is about a man who has come home from war only to suspect that perhaps he has not yet returned from it.