The Last Paradise: A Novel
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (3/09)
Michael Kasenow resourcefully tracks the plight of the oppressed and exploited “alley people” of Galveston, Texas in the post Civil War era. “The Last Paradise” is a stirring story of the strength and endurance of these unwavering men and women fighting to keep their dignity through the trials of injustice and bigotry in the age of Jim Crow.
In an environment where hypocrisy and corporate corruption are intent on spawning racism, prejudice, and poverty, Michael Kasenow weaves a powerful story of the courage, strength and survival of downtrodden men and their families. The alley people reflect an inner strength of character lacking in the affluent, town “bullies,” the bigoted police officers, and the unscrupulous civic leaders in an atmosphere of political tension.
The story moves forward with well-chosen words that begin at a lazy pace, casual, yet compelling – a nonchalance in keeping with the era and locale – Galveston in the early 1900s. Kasenow uses friendly moving banter among friends mixed with cutting barbs, sarcasm and prejudice to develop his characters. His descriptive word pictures draw the reader into his narrative as he describes the “crooked ambiance of Tin Can Alley” or how “the docks bustled with organized chaos.”
Vivid and detailed descriptions bring to life the architecture and commerce of downtown Galveston, the harbor, St. Mary’s Orphanage, the salt marshes, and the wetlands.
A master at character development, Kasenow’s colorful cast include the regulars a Bleach’s Bar, the “working girls” upstairs, Boss Conner and his wharf crew, the nuns and children at St. Mary’s orphanage, Bishop and his family, Jenny and Sara Conner, Newt, and Maxwell and young Cody.
Kasenow writes with such realism I felt the shame and humiliation of Bishop and his family as they were intimidated and harassed brutally before their friends by representatives of the law. In his account of the after effects of the Great Hurricane of 1900, Kasenow engaged the reader in all five senses: the stench of fear and death, the tenderness of touch in providing comfort, and the seeing of loved ones – thought dead. I felt the cooling water on a parched throat, heard the thrashing of hurricane force winds, and was left with the haunting memory of devastation left behind after the storm.
“The Last Paradise” contrasts the emptiness of greed and the lust for power with the hopefulness and moral fiber of the alley people of the Galveston wharf. The novel is brutally forthright as it portrays an honest look at the brutality of evil men. On a lighter note Kasenow includes both rollicking and subtle humor and a thread of romance throughout the story.
As in his poetic writings, Kasenow reveals the strength and triumph over despair, which produces healing through kindness with the reward of hope during harsh and chaotic times. “The Last Paradise” an editors choice book, is destined to establish Michael Kasenow as a serious historical fiction author.