A tightly crafted legal thriller written by an attorney who knows the law.
A national coalition known as the Christian Militants attempts to overthrow the United States government and all hell breaks loose. As the rebellion threatens to divide the nation, two unlikely leaders arise in the opposing camps. Will they save the Union, usher in the Kingdom of God or plunge the United States into all-out civil war?
The first thing that caught my eye in this novel was the panoply of character names: Ert Roberts, Leadoff Pickens, Quanah Parker Brown, etc. I found myself giggling knowingly. (Quanah Parker's mother was first buried right up the road.) As a resident of East Texas and frequenter of town squares, fiddlin' contests, and Walmart, I would have guessed from where this author hailed even without a byline. I don't know what possesses mothers in this area to name their babies as such; one guesses it is to separate them from the garden variety Bubba Jays. Texas has no dearth of colorful characters, and East Texas has them in spades. No need to make this stuff up. No sirreee. I say this with all due respect (NO, I am not writing this to "Dueling Banjoes"); my own roots go all the way to the backwoods of Tennessee, and there's no way of knowing if the family tree even forked, let alone branched.
On a "seriouser" note, Stephen Woodfin has delivered a BOMB of a novel here. Why would this surprise me? He claims to be an attorney. Nah. Number one, any lawyer joke I ever heard doesn't come near fitting his depth of character. Number two, no practice would hire someone who could out-write most masters of the literary canon, for fear of being overshadowed. That said, however, no one would believe I was once the general manager for an English Rose company, either. Good writers should give up the eating habit. If he is indeed an attorney, he needs to quit and devote more time to cranking out these profound novels. Woodfin, your country needs you.
Always a fan of apocalyptic anything, I was taken with the immediacy of a breathless, first-page plunge into the action of this story, thanks to character Ithurial Finis. See what I mean about names? (Ithuriel - "discovery of God" - is one of the 3 deputy sarim (princes) of the holy sefiroth serving under the ethnarchy of the angel Sephuriron in 16th century literature) How appropriate! The author regularly weaves classic references like this into all his writing, revealing the striking underpinning of vast knowledge and education. Be assured that anything he pens is a wealth of learnedness that continually intrigues the careful reader. No yawns holding a Woodfin book!
Don't be daunted by the huge number of chapters herein; the story moves along at breathless speed, each chapter more dire than the last. One almost needs an oxygen tank. I won't go into the brilliance of plot, the exquisiteness of language, or any of those things others have already said. It's all there; it's all perfectly there. Ultimately the purpose of reading, for me, is to learn and to feel something of the author's spirit and worldview during the act of creation. I learned. I deeply felt. I'm still free-falling toward a vastly changed home turf, out of that rose-colored glider from which Stephen Woodfin so ably and purposefully shoved me.
The unsettling thing about Next Best Hope is its possibility. At any moment, with the slightest impetus, these events could unfold as written in the real world - this existence where polarization has taken root like an unkillable weed, each of us caught up in our own little orbits of ambition, rampant consumerism and self-fulfillment to the degree that we haven't taken seriously the burgeoning, low roar emanating from the neighborhood tea parties of God's self-appointed elite. One need only look at the rest of the world to see how that turns out. Have we failed to absorb the disturbingly high body count numbers of those who have been murdered in the name of one god or another? Do we really believe that power and greed don't also occupy church pews and pulpits? We ignore these things at our own peril.
I submit that the public should read this author's fiction en masse, not just for the thrill, which it definitely will be, but for a strong dose of HOW it might be. A distasteful potion? For sure. Will it be good for us? Without question. And speaking of questions, we simply have to ask: is Stephen Woodfin the H. G. Wells or George Orwell of our time? If he's still a practicing lawyer in ten years, we'll know.
--Jo VonBargen 2012