Monday, May 29, 2006

That night, nestled snugly into his own high feather bed beneath the only roof he had ever called his own, he was, without awareness of a transition, plunged precipitously into dreams of terrific violence that shuddered him awake hours later to a quaking darkness and bedclothes damp with sweat, unable to locate precisely where or even who he was. Then he remembered. It's America, he thought, and you, whoever you are, will be alright. It's America, and everything was going to be fine.

And so ended Amalgamation Polka, Stephen Wright's nod to the gothic Civil War tale. I was waiting for a great ending and Wright fulfilled my expectations with this killer paragraph. At a time when the America seemed like it was going to break at the seems of the Republic, Liberty Fish shudders at his memories of war, but remains optimistic of our future, an all too common thread in history. But without such people, our country, as we know it, would never have been.

Wright captures the onslaught of war and one's difficulty in finding their place in it better than Charles Frazier ever did in Cold Mountain. When Cold Mountain and it's ubersentimentality, was laden with romance and war better left to the masters like Tolstoy or in the pages of Doctor Zhivago. Wright dodged sentimentality with ease and portrayed a truer world. A world that is often left to the imagination.

Even as a child Liberty had known-though he couldn't begin to say how-that this world was not what it seemed, that closely hidden behind the mundane affairs of the day lurked layer upon unexamined layer of outright strangeness, of which what passed for ordinary was merely protective out covering, the skin, so to speak, of a beast so huge, so vital, it could never be discerned whole in all its proportions. This vacant town was permitting him a modest peek.

Liberty Fish is more than just a young man on a rite of passage, men like him always are. Liberty walks through life observing human nature at its best (at home with his mother and father, vehement abolitionists) and the worst (in the South with his maternal grandparents,) and we are allowed to see the breadth of humanity in his travels. Once again, as in many books I find moving and poignant, as Liberty explored his world and discovered himself, we discovered a little of ourselves along the way.

I've written almost an identical conclusion before, but it seems to endure in my mind like few other themes.

The snow fell between them like a cheap, disintegrating curtain.
"I was fortunate," admitted Liberty, attempting to conceal his discomfort behind a wan smile.
"No, you wasn't, that's for true. It's how it was writ down in the book before you, me or anybody was ever born. It's how you was writ from the beginning, the character you was dictated to impersonate through all the daylong turnings of the page."

Now reading:
Hilary Mantel Fludd

On deck:
Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose


Danielle said...

Now you are the second person to give this a good review--must move it up in my stack!

M. Barresi said...

SFP at Pages Turned was the first I heard even mention this book and I trust her completely. I think it's a must read, for sure.

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