Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sins of Our Fathers

Title:  Sins of Our Fathers
Author:  Shawn Lawrence Otto
Publication Information:  Milkweed Editions. 2014. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1571311092 / 978-1571311092

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Quote:  "He was going to find a way, starting tonight, to turn things around. A way to come together and move forward again - not as if nothing happened, but acknowledging that it had, and then finding the forgiveness and the strength and the love to heal together."

On its surface, Sins of Our Fathers is about greed and business. JW is a banker in northern Minnesota. Because of a gambling and a drinking problem, he lands himself in serious trouble. His boss offers him a deal to salvage his life - infiltrate the competitors and help to defeat their efforts. Simple enough. The book is the story of a man dealing with loss and addiction - a man who is handed the opportunity to reclaim his life.

The undercurrents and depth of this story come in with who the competition is. JW's employer is North Lake Bank, which operates around Indian country in Minnesota - the Native American reservations and the casinos found there. The bank's objective is to make money off of the casino business but to retain that money in the bank rather than reinvest it in the Native American community running the casinos. Undercurrents of the racial divide, prejudice, and discrimination enter into this picture and the business model of North Lake Bank. In fact, the book begins with JW conducting a seminar on "Banking in Indian Country" - tips and techniques to legally draw money out of the casinos and into the bank. Legal - yes. Ethical - probably not.

The competition to North Lake Bank is Johnny Eagle, a qualified and expert banker. He has returned to a life on the reservation with his teenage son and is working on setting up a bank on the reservation. A bank on the reservation means the end of the business model North Lake Bank perpetuates. A bank on the reservation means that casino earnings stay on the reservations and are reinvested into the community rather than the "white man's" bank.

JW enters into the situation to do exactly what his employer wants - to stop Johnny Eagle. Yet, as he gets personally involved, things change. What choices will JW make? Will he choose the right thing or the expedient thing? Will he turn his life around? Will he find the salvation he seeks? These are the questions the story answers.

Throughout this book, I get the feeling that I have read it before. If not the story, then the characters at least. The characters seem to each fit a type and not veer from that. The down and out main character rehabilitating his ways and looking for salvation. The the stoic underdog fighting the establishment. The rebellious teenager. The greedy banker. The wife who walks away unable to deal with the downward spiral of a loved one's choices. The daughter betrayed by a father. The enemy who may or may not turn out to be a friend.

The character behave predictably through the story, bringing it to a somewhat predictable conclusion. No real surprises.

What is beautiful about this book is the wonderfully visual writing. The author Shawn Lawrence Otto is a screenwriter for TV and film. He wrote and co-produced the Oscar winning movie based on House of Sand and Fog. Sins of Our Fathers is his debut novel. His expertise in imagery shows clearly in this book. He paints a picture with his words - whether of the characters or of the setting. From the character with “a rugged air of adventure that contrasted nicely with his well tailored banker's suit” to the setting of “the dusky rolling hills … darkening skies … and the dark planes of a building.”

Because of the writing and visualization, I look forward to reading more from Shawn Lawrence Otto.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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