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Fiction Review    



Wild Hands Toward the Sky: A Novel
by Ray Elliott
Tales Press, 2002
Hardcover, $28.00 (431 pages)
ISBN: 0-9641423-7-6



Many children growing up in America today find themselves fatherless and in some cases motherless, while their parent serves in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan. Hopefully, that is a temporary situation for the child, but sometimes the parent gives his/her life for our Country. This parallels the situation that young John Walter McElligott finds himself in as he grows up surrounded by the memories of others of his father and of World War II. 

Using a line from Stephen Crane's poem "War is Kind," Ray Elliott sets the novel's theme and mood with the line -- "wild hands toward the sky." In one reading, it describes the death of the warrior. In another reading, it celebrates the warrior's spirit and freedom. Yet, in another reading, it captures all the loved ones left behind asking why?

Wild Hands Toward the Sky is a coming-of-age novel about a boy in rural Illinois whose father was killed on Guadalcanal during World War II. He and his mother live with his father's brother Big, who happened to marry his mother's sister. Big and his father were business partners, and the decision of who would go to war was made on a coin toss. Big is the patriarchic head of the family which extends to cousins. His name does not only refer to his size or place in the clan, but the size of his heart.

As John Walter grows up, his father's peers on the field of battle share their experiences. It is the way that he gains insight into his dad; and at the same time, John Walter serves as stand-in for the veterans' dead comrade. The most haunting of these men, is Cousin Sam, who survived the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, but carries physical and emotional scars.

Elliott's debut novel may have been started as another tribute to the veterans of World War II that we have seen since The Greatest Generation, but his approach through the son's eyes adds poignancy and impact on our times. The novel is not morbid, as touches of rural and family humor are used to lift the mood. Wild Hands is a powerful story of family love and the bonds of veterans. 

Ray Elliott is an editor, a publisher and an author of numerous works of nonfiction. For more than twenty-five years, he taught English and journalism before retiring to write and run Tales Press. Elliott has also been a farmer, a Marine, an oil field roughneck, a construction laborer and a truck driver. He lives in Urbana, Illinois, with his wife and two daughters.

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews


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