Thursday, June 16, 2005

IF GOD WERE A NOVELIST...

CATEGORY: Reading and Writing

One of my favorite novels is Felicia's Journey by William Trevor. And for one who reads as avidly--and sometimes as recklessly--as as a food addict at an all you can eat buffet, it's not easy to name favorites. Though Trevor is more acclaimed for his short stories, this novel moved me more than any of his shorter pieces. It is that rare work of fiction that lingers in the mind and heart long after the book has been returned to the shelf. Maybe it's folly to believe that a novel can actually change us, but I don't think so. I believe that a book like Felicia's Journey, which almost sings with compassion for its tragically flawed characters, one of whom is a serial killer, might actually expand our capacity for mercy.

Another such book of mercy is The Bright Forever by Lee Martin, which I finished last night. This novel also deals with
the worst among us--a man who chooses to act out his own pain and rejection by murdering a child. Outside the pages of novels, we frequently refer to such men as "monsters," disowning their darkness by casting them out of the human family. But Martin will have none of our distancing. He makes us look directly into the face of his killer, and what we see is something as ordinary as bread, as familiar as the stranger who smiled at us in the hardware store this morning, or the one who startled us in the bathroom mirror when we caught a glimpse of ourselves in the middle of the night.

Told from multiple viewpoints, The Bright Forever probes the consciousness of both the "good people" and those who do great evil. He finds more disparity between their circumstances than in their hearts' capacity to hold darkness. In his refusal to turn away from or give up on any of his characters, Martin, like Trevor before him, has given us an idea of the kind of book God would write if he were a novelist.