in Foreword Reviews
Eric’s novel, Above All Men, was reviewed by Kenrick Vezina in Vol. 17, No. 2, Spring 2014 edition of the review journal, Foreword Reviews. The review is available in both print and online editions, as well as in downloadable PDF format. Here are the spoiler-free highlights:
“It is hard not to admire Above All Men. It is stark, compelling, and impossible to ignore. Shonkwiler’s prose rises and falls in poetic fashion; he has an excellent grasp of rhythm.”
“The resource-starved future presented here is rich and believable, providing a tense environment within which to explore the struggles of this family.”
“This novel is as bleak and scouring as the dust storms that fill its pages.
Set in a near-future America, Above All Men follows the life of former army medic David Parrish, his wife, Helene, and their adolescent son, Samuel. After a vague but disastrous international war, the Midwest has returned to its farming roots amid a decaying America. The situation is dire and getting worse. There’s an ongoing drought, and soon a storm in the Gulf knocks out our protagonist’s last source of oil.
In its first half, Above All Men chronicles the day-to-day struggles of David and his family as they deal with a world that seems intent on snuffing out human life. Halfway through, [a] little girl is murdered, and David quickly becomes unhinged in his quest for justice.
Tormented by his actions in the war, David seems decent, if emotionally stunted, and it’s easy to buy into his plight as a troubled man trying to do right by his family. Once the murder takes place, though, the novel heads down a dark hole from which it never fully emerges. David’s actions in pursuit of justice are increasingly violent, all hung entirely on little more than a hunch. [...]
Yet, it is hard not to admire Above All Men. It is stark, compelling, and impossible to ignore. Shonkwiler’s prose rises and falls in poetic fashion; he has an excellent grasp of rhythm.
The resource-starved future presented here is rich and believable, providing a tense environment within which to explore the struggles of this family. Themes of death, loss, and struggle pervade the work; it opens with young Samuel’s first exposure to death and ends with his becoming entirely too familiar with it.
Above All Men is at its best when it presents simply a slice of life, letting its focus wander to capture moments of drama. After the murder, this exploration is jettisoned, and the novel becomes laser-focused on moral absolutism, frontier justice, and David’s obsessive quest to find the killer. [...]
Though it has the trappings of a near-future cowboy thriller, Above All Men has a literary heart which should have broad appeal to those with an interest in fiction.”