Monday, August 25, 2008

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
A novel about the spiritual life is unusual. This one succeeds with a straightforward, restrained approach. A spiritual calling means something in this book – it’s deserving of respect. To provide needed action and color, Cather includes many hardships, some adventures, much about the Indians and the Mexicans, a few legends. Also, nature plays a big part – the landscape is a character, alive and interacting with the humans who inhabit its deserts and mountains. Overall, the book has a calm, unmoving center, which reflects the rock solid faith of the two fathers.

The Prevalence of Witches - Aubrey Menen
An interesting philosophical novel that peters out by the end. It was mostly ideas, with little in the way of characters or plot. Just a situation. But it was an unusual diversion for a while.

South Wind - Norman Douglas
A unique work by a sophisticated writer. He uses a light touch, humor, he creates colorful characters in an fantastic setting (an island called Nepenthe). Most of the book consists of people talking about life and how it should be lived. Many of the ideas are radical, but Douglas is too intelligent to leave those ideas unsupported. He wants to be provocative, and he does set one to thinking along new lines. Behind the light touch there’s a caustic view of human nature, but in Nepenthe nothing is to be taken seriously (one of the simpler ideas offered up: Life is a lark, enjoy it). Despite the pleasure Douglas provides, this doesn’t succeed fully as a novel because too many characters come and go, too many plot lines are weak, too much of the talk is idle. I left not having felt deeply about anyone. Still, it was a charming party.

The Rise of Silas Lapham - William Dean Howells
A solid, grounded work, and Silas Lapham is a strong character; I cared about his dilemma. In its concern with money and ethical decisions, the novel is old-fashioned, in a good way. Another, not so good, is the awkward romance between Pen and Tom. Also, the last part has the feel of a summary (the pace changes noticeably). The book needed an ending that had impact, but it just trails off vaguely. The solid bricklayer got a bit hasty, or tired, or something. Still, this was a satisfying read.

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