Lavaca County & the fate of Karel Skala
October 6, 2010
Every once in a while, a novel surpasses conventional description. While it may be moving, intriguing and profound, it’s also much more than that, existing on a creative level that so richly evokes a fictional world the story blows into a reader’s life with the force and presence of a powerful windstorm. Bruce Machart’s The Wake of Forgiveness is one of those books.
Immediately, we are plunged into dramatic storytelling set in Lavaca County, Texas, in 1895. Karel Skala is born, the fourth son of Klara and Vaclav Skala, with his mother dying in childbirth. Next, it is 15 years later, March 1910. Vaclav is a major landowner, having gained acreage by winning horse races with Karel in the saddle. He’s become a bitter, hardened man, silently blaming his youngest boy for taking away the love of his life. Karel yearns for the touch of the mother he’ll never know. Vaclav saves his two good horses for racing and makes his four sons pull the field plow.
One fateful day, these working Skalas are approached from the road by Guillermo Villaseñor, a wealthy Mexican, new to the area, who proposes Vaclav’s three oldest sons marry his three daughters. Vaclav snubs the offer, until Guillermo suggests a horse race. If Guillermo wins, the Skala boys marry his daughters. If Vaclav wins, he gets more land and keeps his sons to work it.
The drama vividly unfolds in chapters that alternate between March 1910, when the race occurs, and December 1924, when the brothers are married to Guillermo’s daughters and Karel to his wife Sophie. In the back and forth, author Bruce Machart keeps us locked into the intensity of the life-changing events of the failed race, which is written in the present tense, a subtle indication that it hovers over Karel as an eternal “now.” This pivotal, divisive time continues to define Karel in December 1924, estranged from his brothers and resentful of them. It takes the birth of his first son and a tragedy at the home of one of his brothers to open the door of forgiveness and free Karel of his private pain.
Machart uses a profusion of words with relentless artistry, creating clauses thick with colorful detail. One must surrender to the beautiful words and allow them to immerse the senses in the Texas landscape and the impulses of the Skala men. Because there, in the wake of forgiveness for Karel Skala, horse racing and brotherhood collide in dynamic, complex and unforgettable life.