Nattering novels of negativism
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Most of the reviews I offer on this page are positive, since in this limited space I want to suggest books worth reading rather than those deserving complaints. But once a year it’s worth pointing out the way so many contemporary novels display the hatred of family, marriage, and men that’s fashionable in some European and American circles. This year’s example: Inès Bayard’s This Little Family (Other Press, 2020) begins with a portrait of protagonist Marie’s almost-perfect life. She meets Laurent, marries him three years later, and seven years after that “Marie watches him just as tenderly as she did ten years ago.”
Meanwhile, “Laurent’s love for Marie is genuine and deep,” and they even have a large apartment in a fashionable part of Paris, which they love. One potential problem: Laurent is getting overly involved in his big law firm, but they’ve just decided to have a baby, and Marie is intensely happy: “She’s never felt so weightless, every corner of her being is intoxicated, blissfully shaking off all tension. … After their blanquette of veal this evening, Laurent and Marie will lie in bed arm in arm, pressed up close in the elation of their plans.”
Of course it doesn’t last: The back cover says Bayard “tears down the hypocritical façade of upper-middle-class respectability.” The CEO of Marie’s company brutally rapes her. She feels she can’t tell her husband or anyone. She becomes pregnant and suspects the baby is the rapist’s. Marie’s life and marriage fall apart. She poisons her husband, her baby, and herself. No apologies for the spoiler: I hope you’ll never read this book, and Bayard anyway tells us that on page 1. The rest of the book attempts to justify Marie’s horrible decision.
Much higher on a literary scale is Richard Ford’s short story collection, Sorry for Your Trouble (HarperCollins, 2020)—but the stories are inevitably depressing tales of human-caused social isolation. Life is meaningless: “There was so much time to be alive; then you weren’t anymore.” Married people interact like two ships in the night. Conversations dangle. In other hands these sad stories could point to our need for Christ, but Ford offers no redemptive threads. Steven Pressfield’s 36 Righteous Men (Norton, 2020), a novel set in a near-future dystopia, has a stimulating title, good characterization, and an intriguing plot, but it’s filled with propagandistic predictions of global warming.
More interesting: Aharon Appelfeld’s To the Edge of Sorrow (Schocken Books, 2020, translated from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman) is a gripping, earthy novel about Jewish guerrilla fighters in Ukraine during World War II. Naturally, it has scenes of wartime violence, but the narrator is 17 years old, and I would not withhold this realistic but also idealistic book from good readers his age. Lenape Homeland by James Landis (TGS International, 2016) gives in novel form a Native American perspective on the settlement of what are now the Mid-Atlantic states. Six other books in The Conquest Series continue the saga.
Matthew Kim and Daniel Wong’s Finding Our Voice: A Vision for Asian North American Preaching (Lexham, 2020) notes that many with Asian ancestors have financial success but “read Scripture through the lens of marginalization and alienation.” God, though, has given advantages: “With our Asian face and North American citizenship, we can enter into countries where there is no gospel access for whites.”
Kris Putnam-Walkerly’s Delusional Altruism (Wiley, 2020) has advice on how philanthropists can do better. Hillary Kaell’s Christian Globalism at Home: Child Sponsorship in the United States (Princeton, 2020) has interesting specific detail, but Kaell cannot seem to make up her mind whether she likes the personal touch of sponsorship or despises donors who help a child but do not challenge inequalities.
Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock’s What Does the Bible Teach About Transgenderism? (Christian Focus, 2020) offers solid Biblical advice about this trendy delusion. —M.O.
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