The Angels' Share by James Markert: Book Summary
What Remained Of Old Sam's Legacy
A young boy awakens in the middle of the night, having to use the bathroom- afraid to venture outside into the hallway at the noises coming from outside in the garage. He didn't know where his father went, only that he was gone sometimes for days, and he wandered outside to see several men including his father roughing up some man in the garage. They never saw William that night, but what he saw never left his mind and sets forth The Angels' Share by James Markert.
Like his other novels, having a slightly religious undertone, there is no acceptation in the novel, as the McFety family having several generations in their Bourbon production that employed most of the town, suddenly comes to an end with the beginnings of prohibition.
The grandfather, Sam, unable to the cope with the loss of the his legacy, hung himself from the twisted tree outside, the namesake of the town that had somehow survived the terrible tornado that raged the night his youngest grandchild, Henry was born.
Now with his distillery closed and his Henry in the family plot, old Sam ended his life. His son, Barley was the next in line to run the business if it was ever allowed to reopen and took to bootlegging to keep his family afloat, after Henry died, though Barley was the laughing stock of the town that whispered about them as he turned to booze to remove himself from the reality of his failing family.
In the meantime, the oldest child, William, wanting nothing more than to become a journalist, is researching the perfect story to get him on the map when it falls upon his own property line as he notices a group of outcasts holding vigil around a grave marked with a huge cross.
While Barley wants to chase away the strangers, the rest of the family shows kindness and lets the strangers remain finding out they had been following a man that they believed had performed miracles, but now he was murdered.
Barley turned to an alias when bootlegging, but was still afraid that one day a gangster that they had crossed in the past would come looking for him again. With a wife and children to protect, including a crippled daughter, Barley had sunk as far into the bottle as he could after the death of their youngest son, which he had been the driver of the car.
Disciples And The Potters Field Christ
The man they followed was named Asher Keating and he was a mysterious man that healed the sick, blessed the poor, and saved the lives of everyone that followed him, the Disciples had told William, all with their own story of how Asher had come to them and protected them from danger in his own right.
While some were only words of encouragement, some claimed that he had healed their bodies, returned their hearing, or cured their lameness.
William isn't sure that he believes in any of this but one night after his brother Johnny is praying on the grave as the outcasts in the field were doing, their sister Annie began to walk without the aid of her leg braces for the first time in her life- something that could only be described as a miracle.
William took to writing the story calling it "The Potters Field Christ" and earned his first byline at the newspaper, soon following it with updated tales of many who would make a pilgrimage to the grave to pray for the dying, and ask for forgiveness for their own weaknesses.
Barley is first offended that William would speak such blasphemous, but then becomes a believer himself when their priest who awakens with stigmata, has his wounds heal as he prays over the grave. Worried all the media attention though will lead the gangsters looking for Barley during his bootlegging back to his family, he scolds William for writing, but eventually gives up his own tale to tell.
Asher Keating was just a man, those that followed him would say. They said that he found them one day when they were children, all somehow gifted prodigies in their own right and in a moment of need when they were sick or in danger, Asher showed up and healed their wounds or saved them in some way. After being touched by Asher, he would watch over them for the rest of their lives as they grew into adults as their guardian, then messiah.
Do You Believe In Miracles
Still unsure if he believed himself, William is finally convinced after he finds among the belongings of Asher, the shoes that his brother Henry wore the night of the accident but were never recovered from the wreckage. The disciples said that Asher wore those shoes around his neck, as he grieved for Henry who he could not save the night of the accident, although he was there on site as attested by the man in the other vehicle that also survived just as Barley had.
The witness remembers a man gently holding Henry, great sadness falling over his face as he could not bring the boy back to life.
Through later investigation, William learns from the twin sister of one of the gangsters that was after Barley that she had her own run in with Asher as a child when she began to have visions of Jesus and Mary when she was around four years old which lead to her calling as nun.
Sister Mary believes that her brother is bad, perhaps born with bad in him and warns William. As for if Asher was the real thing, she only smiles at knowing what miracles he had performed. She informs William that Asher's mother who arrived in the country thirty-three years before and gave birth to Asher at Ellis Island, was living in a nearby sanitarium said to have schizophrenia which lead to Asher growing up in foster homes and orphanages.
The night that Henry died, Asher had just come from visiting his mother, Maryanne, who explained he healed her that evening and her clarity returned that night.
Perhaps too worn out from his earlier miracle he could not have saved Henry as well?
When Asher is attacked he chooses not to fight back and lets his assailants kill him, asking his disciples not to seek revenge.
Barley does his best to fake his own death with the help of Johnny, and William writing about the stumbling upon of a body that they planted the ID that Barley used for his bootlegging, but the gangster brother of Sister Mary soon starts to terrorize the McFee home and those camped out on their land to be near the source of the miracle. Not seeking forgiveness for his sins, the gangster is out for blood.
Barley Makes Peace
Spending most of the novel opposed the craziness of everyone in his family believing in the miracles happening around them, it isn't until the events bring Barley back closer to his family, reunited in the joy of Annie's healing, and bringing the distillery back to business.
Barley now has pride in himself and his family linage and as he bonds with his sons and wife again working on the newest batch and spending his nights defending those staying in the Potters Field from attacks of Klan members, and the gangsters that are after Barley, a fire claims the property.
While many had been injured and fled after the attack, it was Barley that lost his life- it was a miracle they say that he was the only one hit. He is ready to die, with Henry on his lips as a last murmur.
Finally the man is at peace and has gained back the respect of his family and community but what of his father's business that could get the town back on its feet?
The Angels' Share
When pruning through the wreckage, in some loose floorboards, William finds several barrels of bourbon that had been aged since grandfather had been alive with a note, saying that he was saving them believing that one day the prohibition would end.
It was the angels' share, returned to them. This term being for what evaporates off when making alcohol, grandfather joking when William was a child that for giving the angels their own share of the drink they kept the proprietary safe for generations.
Proven to be gifted in his own way at healing, and showing extraordinary power, beyond the grave Asher had performed his last miracle saving the McFee family and bringing the community back together, but was he really what his followers believed?
Maryanne claimed that when she was pregnant and seeking passage to the new world after being scolded by her family for not knowing who the father of her child was- hinting at immaculate conception, Maryanne says Asher was already healing those while he was inside her, as those that touched her during the pregnancy were calmed and serene.
Whoever Asher really was, he had proven himself true to seek out and protect those that he found special like himself.
James Markert delivers another beautifully penned story in The Angels' Share speaking of both religion, community, and family in this tale that turns the hardest circumstances that anyone must overcome into a reason to keep on living.