Trade Paperback, 358 pages
This sweeping allegorical tale begins with the escape of a Gypsy princess and her young lover from her father's camp in 1851, recalling the flight of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The boy steals Prodigal, a sailing ship blessed with unnatural speed, and the lovers escape to sea, leaving the father to grieve for the loss and pine for the return of his child. More than 150 years later on Ocracoke Island we meet Aidan Sharpe, an aging lawyer, as he rises from the sand of a remote beach after a lost weekend. While struggling to rebuild his life in this lonely outpost of the Outer Banks, Aidan is caught up in a two-thousand-year-old mystery that unfolds with the sudden reappearance of Prodigal off the coast, adrift and unmanned. Its discovery will lead Aidan and those close to him into the deep, in a race between time and eternity.
The Prodigal by Michael Hurley opens with a princess and her lover escaping on a boat and then jumps to the present where we meet Aidan Sharpe on Ocracoke Island. Aiden is a talented partner in a prestigious Raleigh law firm whose life is on the cusp of taking a turn in a new direction. While it looks like Aiden's life is headed for a great fall, he actually begins to rebuild his life in an unexpected way back on Ocracoke Island with an unlikely group of cohorts while overcoming an enemy and restoring a boat with a mysterious past.
The Prodigal is an incredibly well written debut novel. This well rounded novel includes a mystery, a legend, a little romance, personal challenges, and pulls in knowledge of the law, Catholicism, and sailing. It is also an allegorical novel. Those with a background of Biblical stories will be able to make comparisons between characters and events in the book and the Bible. But note that the religious underpinnings of this novel are not force fed to anyone and any previous knowledge of them is not necessary because this is also an epic tale of self-discovery. It truly begs comparison to a legendary mythological struggle where the imperfect hero has to overcome great odds - with a hint of magic realism.
Those who enjoy literary fiction are going to love The Prodigal. Themes explored include: human frailty and failings, loss and betrayal, self-awareness and discovery, restoration and redemption, friendship and hope, loyalty, honor, and trust. The characters are all imperfect but many of them are trying to overcome their limitations and do the best they can under their various circumstances. Hurley does a commendable job of not judging his characters, while allowing them their various human frailties and foibles.
I am actually surprised at how much I loved The Prodigal. Admittedly the first third of The Prodigal was slow to totally capture my attention while the backstory and all the characters were being set into place, but once it hit its stride, I was completely hooked. Hurley manages to weave so many diverse elements into his tale, but, just as in life, a good story has many different parts to it.
Its surprising to note that this is Hurley's debut novel. He's written other things, but for a first novel there is a depth, intelligence, and thoughtfulness present that make you crave more.
Very Highly Recommended
(As of the writing of this review on 10/8 the Kindle edition was .99!)
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the author and TLC for review purposes.