|Cover artist||Marc Cohen|
|Publication date||March 1998|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||768 pp (first edition, hardcover)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-06-016860-9 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 21|
|LC Classification||PS3552.A49 C57 1998|
|Preceded by||Rule of the Bone|
|Followed by||Invisible Stranger|
The novel is narrated as a retrospective by John Brown's son, Owen Brown, from his hermitage in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. His reminiscences are triggered by the reception of an invitation from a Miss Mayo, assistant to Oswald Garrison Villard, then researching his book John Brown: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston, 1910).
Banks raises a number of thematic questions during the lengthy portrayal of his subject matter. Notable among them are:
- How emotional attachment and hermetic exile provide for an unreliable narration.
- The moral consequences of Radicalism: violent vs. non-violent protest.
- The fine line between sanity and religious fanaticism: "...the Lord speaks to me."
- How strong familial attachment is itself a form of slavery.
- Loss of innocence.
The narrative style employed by Banks is introspective and apologetic where each character's moral compass is seen as through the microscope of Owen Brown's telling; detailed and larger than life. Bank's prose uses language that registers on the psyche: evoking the conviction that redemption can be gained by an Augustinian confession. And yet the reader is goaded into sympathy with these characters by their sheer persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable daily travails - evoking the innocence of a new-born country.
Banks takes great license with some of the historical figures in his narrative and very clearly states in his preface that his book is a work of fiction and not to be substituted for a work of biography or history. Perhaps most significant is the later life of Owen Brown; the historical Owen Brown died in 1889 at the age of 64 while his literary counterpart lives for decades longer.
The novel was reviewed positively in a number of places—
- "Russell Banks has created in Cloudsplitter an immediate landmark in American fiction" BookPage
- "Masterly... a furious, sprawling drama that commands attention like thunder heard from just over the horizon." Time Magazine (quoted in:)
- "...a novel of near-biblical proportions about the abolitionist freedom fighter John Brown, is shaped like an explosive with an exceedingly long and winding fuse." New York Times 
Awards and nominations
- PEN/Faulkner finalist
- Pulitzer Prize finalist
- Flowers, Charles (1998). "Book Page Fiction Review : Cloudsplitter". Book Page Fiction Reviews. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- "Russell Banks New York State Author 2004-2006". New York State Writers Institute. Archived from the original on 2007-02-09. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- Kirn, Walter (1998-02-22). "The Wages of Righteousness - New York Times". New York Times reviews. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
- Cox, Tom (10 November 2011). "Overlooked classics of American literature: Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- Bing, Jonathan (21 October 2002). "Scorsese to produce HBO's 'Cloudsplitter'". Daily Variety. p. 4. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- "Scorsese, Peck seeding HBO's 'Cloudsplitter'". The Hollywood Reporter. 21 October 2002. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
Alastair Moock has a song called "Cloudsplitter" based on the book. It is on his album, "Fortune Street."