July Read of the Month: “Breath Like the Wind at Dawn,” by Devin Jacobsen

Devin Jacobsen

Reviewed by Charley Hively

Devin Jacobsen’s debut novel, Breath Like the Wind at Dawn (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2020), opens with a garbled mixture of jarring Western lingo and syntax, graphic violence, and sexual innuendo, but one important detail slowly emerges: gold.

Quinn and Irv, a pair of outlaw twin brothers, ambush and slaughter a group of sleeping men for their horses and weapons. One young man, however, who is critically injured and survives the attack, barters for his life with the story of his father’s bank in Utica, a vault filled with gold, a vault with a secret entrance.

Thus begins the reader’s introduction to the Tamplin family: Quinn and Irv, their brother Ed, father (and Sheriff of Utica) Les, and his wife, Annora, who manages the family homestead in Minnesota.

Some have compared this book, with its shifting narration, to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury, while others find Jacobsen’s prose somewhat lyrical, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

The family saga here is epic in its scope—covering a period of over twenty years—yet dysfunctional in its execution: a convoluted plot, confusing points of view, and stilted writing combine for a modern, if disturbing, new entry in the Western genre.

When the distinct, individual narratives—Ed, who has a mysterious past and is on the run; Quinn and Irv, who attempt bank robbery; Les, who is both sheriff and a murdering strangler—inevitably converge, more bloodshed and violence cannot be far behind.

Breath Like the Wind at Dawn will appeal to readers specifically interested in the modern Western novel, fans of Faulkner and McCarthy, and those seeking an adrenaline-packed, over-the top tale of murder, lust, and greed.

But it isn’t for the faint of heart.

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