Thursday, May 28, 2009

Love conquers all – part 1

I read a lot of novels. And since I’m not picky about the genre (not to mention: cheap!), I go to our local “Friends of the Library” book sale every six months, stock up on a stack of used paperbacks at 25 cents per copy, and I’m have bedtime reading to last me until the next sale.

How do I pick them? If the title strikes me, or the cover is a pretty color, or my hand closes on it when I’m really reaching for a different one. It usually takes me about 5 minutes to collect a grocery bag full.

That selection method typically results in me finding a couple of books I really enjoy, about 6-8 that are okay but I CAN put them down easily when the clock (or my eyelids) tells me it’s time to turn out the light for the night, and one or two stinkers.

Aside: I always wonder about how those stinkers ever got through an agent to a publisher who bought them, promoted them, and surely failed to sell enough to even come close to breaking even. Yeah, I know. It’s all a matter of taste, and mine aren’t necessarily representative of everyone else’s. But gee, I can recognize when something is well-written and entertaining, and when something is schlock. I guess some schlock does sell. But my novel was better than that, and . . . Oh, well. **sigh**

Okay, where am I going with this?? In January I picked up a (thick) book called The Brothers K, by David James Duncan. Never heard of him, and never heard of it. Grabbed it on a whim.

After a couple of chapters I knew this book was something special. This guy could WRITE!

When I was about half-way through it I announced to my entire family (on our ski trip) that this was probably the best book I had read in at least ten years. I raved about it.

After I’d finished it I gave it to Carol (who doesn’t necessarily share all of my tastes in books, movies, and so on). She and I were both college English majors, so she is widely read also. To cut to the chase, she finished the book last week and declared that it is probably the best book she has EVER read, period!

Check out this review by a random reader, copied from’s reviews:

Favorite Book, June 8, 2006
By Una (Portland, Oregon) - See all my reviews

After more or less bitterly mocking my conservative Adventist upbringing with my very Catholic best friend 7 years ago, he laughingly recommended this book to me, saying it might help me "deal" with that upbringing to soothe away the bitter. Ohmymymymy.

I checked this out at 9 in the evening and by 4 in the morning had finished this...this...this...the word “book,” from this book-lover, does not do this book justice. This is the monster of books, the God of all books, it's been given a little book-sceptre and rules over all the rest of the book-ette proletariat. It's bourgeois book and beastie book. Even better, instead of pompously lording it over all the rest of the lesser books, it quotes them, loves them, welcomes them in for one big book party.

I have two copies of this book. One copy is signed and is missing three pages, and is ripped in two from reading it too many times. The other is yellowed and sits on top of my bedstand. I have parts of it committed to memory, and re-read over and over and over.

The thing that strikes me most about Duncan's style is his underlying foundation, his ability to find love in the most crazed places: from the Adventist church to Vietnam to Canada to the village dotted desert outside Pune. There is a certain naivete in looking for unmitigated love in these places, but while various of his characters embody that Dostoyevskyan naivete, I get the feeling that Duncan is an incredibly down-to-earth guy and that down-to-earthness meshed with mysticism, Adventism gone fanatical, non-violent violence, etc. leaves a lasting impression.

I would say his main foundation is that love is an uncontrollable force, it takes on faces we might never expect of it. We see that over and over again as we watch this family's epic story unfold so heartbreakingly and terribly.

As for my old friend's comment that "The Brothers K" might help me "deal?" Yes. And then some. I felt like someone had hit me over the head with a frying pan after reading this book. Maybe it was the staunchly Adventist Mama Chance who stepped out of the pages and gave me a good iron whack. Duncan called The Brothers K (and I might be misquoting him a bit) his 700-some page attempt at coming to terms with his own Adventist/Presbyterian upbringing.

Having been raised solely Adventist I find it necessary to point out that some of the theology he attributes to Adventism is incorrect, particularly that Adventists don't believe in a literal hell. The culture, which is ultimately what matters in a book like this, he has portrayed amazingly well, right down to the children's rooms being in the church basement. I understand, from an interview he had with Dan Lamberton of Walla Walla Adventist College, that he was originally trying to write about Baptists, which is bigger and more mainstream and therefore more meaningful to readers, but found himself always returning to his Adventist upbringing, finally switching over altogether.

This book was amazing. While I'm not sure that Duncan would like that I felt hit over the head by a frying pan wielding Mama Chance, it turned out for me, and it keeps turning out. This book "holds multitudes." I can read it and come out crying and laughing and head-achey and glowy and furious and excited depending on which page I'm turning to and which character I'm reading about.

So. Should you buy this book?

Dear friend, buy two copies of this one, for one will fall apart on you for all that page turning.

So, Love is an uncontrollable force that can be found in the craziest of places.

Find a copy of this book. Start reading. You owe it to yourself.

Love conquers all.


jan said...

Thanks. Being more picky than you, but quite a bit cheaper, I read hardbacks from the public library. Always looking for good titles to bully them into buying for me. I cut and paste from blog recommendations and haven't read a bad book for years.

kenju said...

I have written down the name and the author and I'll look for it. I'm reading a children's book now...."The Tale of Despereaux" and I love it.

Candace said...

Thanks, John! I'll look for it this weekend.

The reviewer's comments reminded me of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving - have you ever read it? It's on my list as one of the best of the best.

Christina said...

I agree, The Brothers K is definitely one of the best books I have read in a long time. I will definitely re-read this one!

Badabing said...

Thanks for the tip John. I'll look for it!!

Scruffybutt said...

Read the book. Loved it. Thanks!