Hadrian's Walls

Draper, Robert

Published by Knopf
ISBN 10: 0375403698 / ISBN 13: 9780375403699
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Synopsis: This striking debut novel is an intensely powerful story of imprisonment, both behind walls and within the personal confines of human relationships.

Shepherdsville, East Texas, is a town defined--architecturally, financially, and socially--by its state penitentiaries, among them the bleak Hope Prison Farm. It's a town where virtually every inhabitant is either an inmate or a prison employee, a town where crime literally pays.

Shepherdsville's two most famous citizens are Sonny Hope, its larger-than-life prison director, and Hadrian Coleman, its most notorious convict. Their friendship since boyhood has followed a pattern of mutual dependence, keeping them at once in collusion and on opposite sides of the law. At age fifteen, introspective and emotionally vulnerable, Hadrian killed a man and was sentenced to fifty years at Hope Farm. However, twenty years later, he achieves the unthinkable and escapes from the prison.

After years of life on the run, he's summoned back to Shepherdsville to receive a full governor's pardon secured by Sonny, who now runs the prison and, by extension, the town. Hadrian knows that Sonny's motives are not entirely clean, that this is a favor that will require something in return. When the nature of that payment is finally made clear, he must determine who really owes what to whom and whether carrying out Sonny's demand will result in a lifetime spent in his power. As Hadrian vacillates between loyalty to his friend and the struggle to do right, he is pulled toward a final showdown with Sonny--a crisis that will not only change the lives of the two men but also finally free Hadrian from Shepherdsville and from his past.

Hadrian's Walls won the Steven Turner Award, given by The Texas Institute of Letters for the best first work of fiction.

Review: Hadrian Coleman, the protagonist of Robert Draper's debut novel, Hadrian's Walls, is that rare criminal who really is innocent. Not of murder (he's killed twice in self-defense), but of the further transgression of succumbing to callousness. For, despite the careful depiction of life in Shepherdsville, a mythical East Texas town whose sustaining institution is the state penitentiary, the true geography of Draper's novel is the human heart, where guilt, retribution, and love meld so confusedly that it becomes difficult to discern what confines us and what we choose to keep locked away.

Hadrian's foil and lifelong friend is Sonny Hope, the blustery and conniving prison director. In one of the book's many ironies, Sonny owes more than a slight portion of his success to Hadrian, who, while committing a defensible killing at age 15, leaves Sonny's character unsullied--and blows his own defense--by simply not revealing that his friend witnessed the incident. Thus, while Hadrian is sentenced to years behind bars, alone with the budding realization that he has sacrificed himself for Sonny's happiness, his friend succeeds despite himself, eventually rising to prison director. When, after 15 years, Hadrian kills yet again and then miraculously escapes confinement, he and Sonny start an entirely new sort of cat-and-mouse game: Sonny pardons him, Hadrian returns to Shepherdsville, and a chilling game of who-owes-what-to-whom ensues.

Draper masterfully unveils the petty politics and small-town intrigue of a town dominated by a correctional facility. The book's greatest strength, however, is the fraught interplay between Hadrian and Sonny, who move as though caught in each other's orbit. It's Hadrian's story in the end, though, as he struggles to see if he's more than what Sonny has created--and more than he himself thought. --Ben Guterson

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Hadrian's Walls
Publisher: Knopf
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Very Good

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