The Bellwether by James W. Nelson
First Line: “Gaze out straight, Aaron Hodges,” Four Crows said, “Try to envision Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce people in their last days of freedom.”
Synopsis on Goodreads: Think of the 1800s, the wagontrains, and the people who crossed the prairie looking for a better life. Now fast-forward to the new millennium and the worldwide economy totally crashing, causing unbelievable chaos and violence. Through Native American prophecy, Aaron Hodges sees it coming and envisions building a hidden colony to ride out the likely decades-long crisis.
When the crash came nobody could point a finger and blame a specific thing. The United States and the world were locked in drought, stagnant economy, and rampant pollution. Too many people were wasting too much, demanding too much standard of living, and too much money created too much free time and entertainment, for, as one height was reached boredom prevailed, and more and greater thrills were demanded.
More wood, more metal, more food and drink, and more oil.
The oil flow stopped.
Then the flow of supplies stopped. The civilized world found itself trapped inside a steel, concrete, and plastic wasteland with no utilities, no food, no water.
And no gasoline.
Aaron Hodges is the bellwether. He sees the future through the prophecies of his Nez Perce friend, Four Crows. As Aaron sits on a log, Four Crows makes a symbolic painting on the back of his suede shirt, and speaks to him with a ghostly voice from the past, and future, a future that will see the unification of the Native American and the civilized world falter. Consequently, Aaron makes preparations early, but, unable to believe such a disaster could really occur, he gets sidetracked with a factory job, a Las Vegas gambling trip, buying a small farm, fighting environmental battles, but does stumble onto a beautiful location for a hidden self-sufficient colony. The people he attempts to recruit for colonists also cannot visualize such a bad thing happening, especially Caroline.
When the crash happens, martial law is declared. No taking a caravan down a hardtop road.
So some 60 people go cross-country in 16 covered wagons each pulled by a 4-horse team, over fields, prairie, and forest, about 40 days and 300 miles from southern Minnesota farming country into northern Minnesota wilderness.
Caroline Jentner is the love of Aaron’s life. She has a partly-crippled, seven-year-old daughter, Jennie. Little Jennie doesn’t have a big part, and doesn’t appear until chapter 12, but when she does appear she will capture your heart. You will come to love her, and she helps Aaron and her mom finally get together near the end of story. Caroline often has the viewpoint, and sees the world quite differently from Aaron.
George, a senior citizen hobo, is picked up by Aaron just outside a truck stop at Cheyenne, Wyoming; he has no last name and a peculiar body odor. Aaron and George will both get a job at the same factory where Caroline works, George will help Aaron and Caroline get together after an absence of 19 years. Later, George will become Aaron’s handyman at his small farm, and throughout their relationship George serves as Aaron’s living conscience.
Set in the near future, novel runs for two years. Background themes include the economy, environment, and a shadowy “master race” organization. This novel is character-driven, just normal people loving and finding love, surviving, and reacting to circumstances as best they can. You will like the characters, you will care what happens to them, and at the end you will cheer.
The book started out a bit slow for me, but it picked up towards the middle and grew very exciting. There are many characters to become acquainted with but the author includes a character reference at the end that is very helpful. Although it is fairly long, the author does a good job of keeping the story moving and preventing the reader from getting bored. Overall, this book was a good read. If you want something that will keep you entertained, check out The Bellwether. I gave this book four stars.