Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Vet’s Daughter - Barbara Comyns
Weird. The almost childish presentation (through the first person sensibilities of Alice) contributes to that effect. The characters and their actions are relentlessly strange, often menacing; the father is a monster. Then Alice starts levitating. Comyns served up too many oddities for my taste; nobody was real, so I began to read inattentively. At the end I had no idea who the man with the ginger mustache was. And it seems that I was supposed to know. Oh, well.

The Arrow of God - Chinua Achebe
The Nigerian author has written one of those books which I consider necessary. He gives the Western reader insight into a sensibility foreign to us. We’re presented with a world of gods and spirits and rituals and societal customs. The native priest Ezeulu is a complex and imposing figure; at times he commands respect, at others he elicits aversion. Though he’s a man of strong will and wisdom, his pride and inflexibility will lead to his downfall – and to the downfall of the native religion. The novel is about the end of the old ways, as embodied in Ezeulu. Christianity, with its more potent god, becomes dominant. The last sentence has the people offering the yams they harvest not to Ulu but “in the name of the son.” *

Lions, Harts, Leaping Does - J. F. Powers
Powers’ work is unique in both his subject matter and prose style. He writes about the Catholic clergy, but he’s concerned with their daily lives. Lives which often involve pettiness and annoyances and meanness and stratagems. Stratagems for getting a desk for one’s room from a stingy pastor; annoyance at a housekeeper who has taken on the unwanted role of wife. These men do consider their actions and thoughts and feelings in a religious light, but they’re regular people, like you and me, and their faith doesn’t bring peace and serenity (or does so only with great effort). Sadness and arid disappointment permeate the book; even the humor has a bitter edge. The prose is carefully crafted, with a cadence that the reader needs to get in step with; though lovely, it becomes an object of attention (this is true in some stories more than others; I prefer the direct style). Powers strays occasionally outside the religious world, and he seems quite at home there; more expansive, actually. There are too many constricting boundaries when writing solely about cloistered lives. Read these stories; but also read Powers’ wonderful novel, Morte de Urban.

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