Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ag_in_TX's review of "So Big" (Ferber - 1925)

So, after a long hiatus, I'm back! I was at the library last week and saw "So Big" as I was walking down the aisle and decided I'd saddle back up with this project.

Once again, I'll avoid a synopsis of the book as those are all over the Intrawebs. I'll just touch on my thoughts.

To me, the overriding theme of the book is a little deeper than "search of beauty". The theme is answering the question: "How do we spend the currency of our lives". To Selena, she believed we should create - to grow, to build, to struggle, to love. To her, that was to live.

We saw how, over the course of the book, Dirk gravitated towards what most of us gravitate towards - to be comfortable. He was not bad, or evil, or money grubbing. He just wanted to be comfortable.

The figure of Roelf juxtaposed nicely with Dirk - he who had nothing - he who had a father who thought he was useless - he who arrived in Paris with 5 francs in his pocket - he was the one who pursued creating with a passion. But even then, Selina loved her son just as much and just as deeply, even though he had chosen a different route.
This book illustates how status in life is not so important in the greater scope of things. We all will die and return to dust. What matters is what we build, what we create, and whether we left the world better than it was when we came into it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review: The Edge of Sadness

Title: Edge of Sadness
Author: Edwin O'Connor
Published: 1961, Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Religion, Modern Classic
Accolades: 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Father Hugh Kennedy has returned to his clerical duties after taking a sabbatical to confront and deal with his alcoholism. But he is not returning to his flourishing, well established parish. He has been assigned to "Old St.Pauls" a decaying church in a derelict part of his hometown. In his search for understanding he is reunited with the Camrody family, a wealthy Irish family he thought he new well growing up, but they have secrets of their own.

Where do I begin writing a review about a book which I think is the best book I've read all year? From the synopsis it seems as if this is a heavy, depressing book. It isn't. The book is narrated by Father Kennedy and it is his reflective account of key past events in his life and how they have impact on the present. There is a lot of narration, so the book moves slowly which is OK because there is so much to stop and ponder in this book. It took me 2 weeks to finish because I would put it down and reflect. O'Connor's writing is powerful and honest, but at the same time it is gentle and spiritual. The writing is so believable that I had to keep reminding myself that this is fiction - not a memoir.

"And there were moments when... I would suddenly become aware of a stillness that was something quite apart from the stillness of the night. It was an interior stillness, a stillness inside me, a stillness in which there was the absence of distraction and unrest. A stillness in which quietly, and without effort, I seemed to come together, to be focused and attentive, to be really present, so to speak, a stillness from which it seemed natural, even inevitable, to reach out, to pray, to adore..." (page 223, The Edge of Sadness)

And then there is the Camrody family. The Camrody family is led by the patriarch Charlie Camrody - a larger than life, rags to riches man whose influence on his family is complete. As Father Kennedy is reunited with this family of his childhood he realizes that what one sees and what one knows can be two completely different things. As truths are revealed the impact on Father Kennedy's self and spirituality are profound. But again this is not a depressing book. The dialogue that O'Connor writes with the Camrody is pitch perfect capturing the essence of each person. Charlie Camrody:

"Did you read about that, Father? Did you read about Charlie Camrody the rent gouger? Oh my, ain't that a terrible thing to be called? By the son of little Georgie, that I knew all my life like a brother. And then the papers get on me and say, "Ain't it awful, Mr. Camrody, when a young feller like that calls a fine man like you names?" (page 322, The Edge of Sadness)

But what I liked most about this book was Father Kennedy. He is not a perfect person, let alone a perfect priest - he's not even a great priest, but he's honest. He's someone who is stuck and doesn't know he's stuck until...

How much do I love this book? Well, the copy that I read I had borrowed from the library, so I ordered my own copy online and this book goes on my "searching for first editions list." That should tell you something.

My Rating: 5 out of 5
Note: I read the 2005 Loyola Press edition.