U.S. teacher woos critics with debut novel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Last week, Bruce Machart was teaching a college English class in Texas, but the critical success of his debut novel has put a temporary stop to that.

Eight years after he sketched its opening chapter, his first book, “The Wake of Forgiveness”, arrived on U.S. shelves this week to a chorus of complimentary reviews across the country.

“Publishers Weekly” named it one of their ten most promising debuts to watch and it has been chosen as a Barnes and Noble “Discover” pick.

The recognition has pulled Machart, 40, from his home town in Houston out into the world to face the attentions of the national press; and he seems to be enjoying it.

“Ten days ago I was teaching my five classes and now I’m flying around the country talking to people who have read my book and that is kind of surreal,” Machart told Reuters in New York. “I’m about as tired as I’ve ever been in my life.”

Set in Lavaca County, Texas, “The Wake of Forgiveness” is a violent, poetic account of four brothers from a Czech immigrant family growing up at the turn of the 20th Century.

There is love and horses and beautiful Mexican girls, but critics have been won by his prose, his descriptions of the Texan landscapes and the events that happen in them. Comparisons have been made with the greats of Southern American literature; with Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner.

Machart himself is from a family of Czech immigrants. He was raised in the city, but his cousins lived out in Lavaca County, in the country of his novel, when he was growing up.

“I went out there and I was the city boy,” he said, remembering being knocked out by a seemingly harmless electric fence while chasing a wayward Frisbee throw.

“I’d go to the country and think: this is my homeland, it should feel like something important to me, and instead I just felt like an outsider. Maybe this book was a way of acquainting myself with it.”

Machart teaches English composition and some creative writing at Lone Star College, Texas. He is easy going, jokey, with barely a remnant of the shyness that he said held him back as a kid.

He has had a number of short stories published in literary magazines, but it took some time before completing his debut novel. A marriage, a child and then a divorce stood, for a time, between him and writing.

“You know, life gets in the way,” he says, casually. “I have had all my eggs on one basket for a long time without hatching any chicks. It is a tough business.”

Now, a book of short stories is on the way -- taken from the writing already published in magazines -- and he already has the bones of a second novel.

But before any of that, he has to travel the country and talk about his book.

As for the comparisons with his literary forefathers Faulkner and McCarthy, he shrugs them off. “I don’t deserve to be on that shelf,” he says. “Maybe one day”.

For now, he just aims to keep writing. Asked how many books he plans to end up writing, he said, smiling: “I’ll settle for double digits.”

Editing by Christine Kearney