Thursday, September 30, 2010

Repentance and Redemption of a Not-So-Reliable Wife

The triangle has been a standard plot device since Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, but Robert Goolick twists those three straight lines into a convoluted spiral circling in on itself in his second book, A Reliable Wife.

This is a lush read, a Catherine/Heathcliff read, a Dickensian trek into turn of the century Americana. The language is elegiac, a sorrow that turns on hope but expects despair. Goolick takes the reader into the hearts of his protagonists and opens the secrets they keep from one another. Ralph Truitt wants a wife, but has no hope of love. Catherine Land wants love and money and answers his advertisement, but has dark plans of her own and a lover in the shadows. The lover has his own secrets and drives the plot toward tragedy.

There are muted undertones of classic literature as the plot unfolds. Ralph Truitt is a Jean Valjean, Victor Hugo's saint nee sinner in Les Miserables. There are hints of Fantine, the prostitute who gave everything for her daughter, in Catherine; however, whereas Fantine lost her beauty and her health and ended impoverished while her Cosette prospered, it is the opposite for Catherine who lives in wealth with Truitt but loses her sister to prostitution and vice.

The theme of the "bad woman" healed by simple country life, living things, and a steady man mirrors The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter, and has much of the tone of that book, but Goolick's writing is much more intense, erotically sensual, but restrained. The sexual energy and tension of the story pulls the reader from chapter to chapter and builds a sense of dread as the pent emotions move toward release. This is not a short book, but I read it in one night because there was no stopping place.

This is a prodigal story of a father who is the sinner and the boy who returns home to forgive or avenge, and in the homecoming two characters find redemption, but it is the inevitability of evil that creates the tension as the story reaches its end. We as readers know all and know that the ending cannot be good for these flawed people, but we have come to hope, just as Truitt hopes, for ultimate forgiveness and grace.

As Goolick warns in repeated incantation: These things happen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Book of Eli--NOT

Every now and then, I don't get what I think I'll get. The Book of Eli by Sam Moffie is one of those mistakes. I thought I was getting the book version of the movie that has just come out (yes, we ordered the movie), but it turns out to be entirely different. A reviewer on Amazon suggests that Moffie hurried this book to press to take advantage of the movie release. I don't know about that, but I'm definitely feeling snookered.

The book is a knock-off of The Shack. Were I as crude as Mr. Moffie's protagonist, I would call it a knock-up of that inspirational tale. Eli, the hero, is a good man, almost perfect except for one flaw that proves to be fatal--literally. There are many clinical terms for Eli's sin: copulation, intercourse, sexual union, but Eli is a plain-spoken man. He loves to screw.

This bit of slang is carried throughout the book, nothing unusual in 2010 novels, but somewhat startling in a book that pretends to inspiration. Eli reaches new pinnacles of sensation in a liaison with his favorite adulterous partner and cries out ecstatically, "God! God!!" And he gets God. He dies, goes to heaven and his tutelage begins.

Groucho Marx is his guiding spirit as he visits Sigmund Freud with questions about sexuality, Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, Madelyn Murray O'Hare, Ayn Rand, and his own mother. Groucho is the excuse for several one-liners and provides the secondary theme of the novel. Sex first, jokes next. There are some truly lame Jewish jokes. After a time, Eli's fixation on sex becomes a joke, a vaudevillian schtick that even Eli eventually finds tiresome.

What is interesting about the book is that, for all its irreverence, its explicit language, its extreme secular tone, it seems authentic. Eli is no saint. He's a regular guy, a sinner like most of us, with an obsession with sex that is very honest, but not only does he have an innate god-sense, he is also accepted by a patient creator. It isn't what he is, but what he will become that is the interest of heaven. God creates, after all. Moffie's thesis seems to be that the "good guys" didn't succeed, and now it's time for a regular guy to try.

It's a quick read. I read it in one sitting and found it better than I had anticipated. This is a book that many readers will find offensive, but the reader looking for a secular slant on spiritual living will find this book more palatable than more traditional inspirational writing. The message is neither Christian nor Jewish nor representative of any other faith tradition, but it is found in most faith traditions. We are here to look after one another. We can't do that if we are cheating or exploiting those around us. This is what Eli must learn and what, in a racy, unconventional way, Moffie tries to teach us.