The singer-songwriter Josh Ritter has crossed the line from musician to novelist and we can all consider ourselves fortunate for this progression. Bright’s Passage is the story of a World War I vet who loses his beloved wife during childbirth and sets out to save himself and his newborn son from the burning anger and tragedy life has thrown at them. Henry Bright leaves home, with the encouragement of an angel who talks to him from the body of his horse. It could be a spiritual quest – or it could be something else.
My favorite Josh Ritter song is Kathleen. I suppose a part of me would relish being the subject of such a song (“All the other girls here are stars—you are the Northern Lights”). But the song is really about the guy singing it. The lyrics tell a bittersweet story, a moment to be savored. And it’s about acceptance of the way things are: “I know you are waiting and I know that it is not for me/But I’m here and I’m ready and I’ve saved you the passenger seat.”
In some ways, Bright’s Passage is similar, in a humble and understated sort of way. You want to cheer on the quiet hero and even though the action of the book occurs over a span of just a day or so, it’s a moment in Henry’s life of strong growth. Not every T is crossed, perhaps, but if you’re already a Ritter fan, you’ll get it just as it is.