Making a deal with the devil.
It’s an age-old concept, one seen in dramatic representations like Faust and underlined in the leading question in the Gospel of Mark: “For what does a man profit, if he should gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”
Yet, the Black Bottle Man (Craig Russell, 2010, Great Plains Teen Fiction) is far from a pedantic morality tale. Rather, the reader is instantly sucked into the life of a character named Rembrandt – both in the present as a 90 year old man and in the era directly preceding the Great Depression.
Immediately, we learn that nonagenarian Rembrandt leads a peculiar life. He is, in essence, a hobo – one bound by some unknown pact to move every 12 days. If he doesn’t, extraordinarily bad things happen.
The details of the pact unfolded a little too slowly for my taste, but once they did, I was hooked. I read the majority of the book in the evening, curled up in a chair and finished it early the next morning. It may be labeled as a “teen novel” but is a compelling read from anyone who fits into the age range of the main character throughout the book – from about 10 to 90.
The book opens “In five minutes Rembrandt celebrates his ninetieth birthday. Then he has thirty days to live.” We follow Rembrandt through loss, join him in his adventures, root for him in love and in strife and, most of all, wonder if he will triumph in the pact he became part of so many years ago, before his time on earth runs out.
Will he die still beholden to a pact that wasn’t his doing? Or will he find a way to defeat the “Black Bottle Man” after so many years? What, one must ask oneself, could possibly be worth putting one’s soul in jeopardy?