Little House Books
Published May, 2013
My Rating: Five stars of five.
I asked to review Brian Heffron’s novel of literary fiction, Colorado Mandala, because I saw that it had attracted praise early on, and I wondered what it would be like to read a novel written by a poet. Having finished this moving story, I can say that Colorado Mandala is a poem in novel form. Brian Heffron is a lover. The reader can feel this in the tenderly placed setting of words, like the cut gemstones set in the jewelry so handsomely made by Paul, or the beautifully patterned batiks crafted by the lovely Sarah, two of the main characters. To write what Paul feels when he admires the mandala fashioned in the bun of Sarah’s hair could only be done by a man who understands how it feels to be in love. Brian Heffron loves to set words in magical settings. The narrative of this novel is a love poem.
Much of the action takes place in the gorgeous and rugged outdoors of the mountains of Colorado. Clearly the landscapes of this Western wilderness have shaped Brian Heffron’s spirit. His word-craft soars to high altitudes when he describes the botany and geology of the ageless Rockies. I felt breathless at times. In these giant turns of boulders, caves, and craggy peaks, the main characters hold their own: Paul and Michael, like two enraged mountain goats butting heads to the death, fight for the lithe and sweetly strong Sarah; and little Stuart, Sarah’s perceptive son, whose asthma almost costs him his life in one notable outdoor excursion with the two men who love his mother.
There are minor characters who support the plot, but one is a scene stealer the reader will never forget: the tall, sexy, and frightening Emiliana, who referees a cock fight. She is so energized that I suspect the author knew a person like her.
There are four or five events that move the plot along, and these are skillfully constructed. The reader learns Michael’s secret through Michael’s own writing about his time in Cambodia during the Vietnamese War. Brian Heffron’s creation of Michael’s journal is a literary device that rings highly authentic. Mr. Heffron must have known firsthand the experiences described here, or he must have heard stories that lent to this fiction. I sat in my chair contemplating what that war must have been like for those who had to endure it. In the novel, this experience shattered Michael and threatened to destroy his life and the lives of people who loved him.
In the novel, Michael is in a bar and recites a self-written poem to a spellbound group of rugged, Western mountain people. The poem is delightful, and I can understand why the boozy and jabbering tavern customers settled down to listen, as their local celebrity commanded a stage in the midst of them. At the conclusion of the poem, the audience cheers Michael wildly in appreciation for his work. This is how I felt at the end of the novel, like I had just heard in my heart a poem of wild beauty. I know Brian Heffron’s literary work of love will stay with me like a rhyming poem paced to the speed of my most peaceful days.