The world, the house, and the Devil
Novels that tackle morality and meaning
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This latest novel in the Gilead series has more conflict and plot elements than some of the other books in the series. While Gilead and Home focus on characters’ internal development in the midst of ordinary life, Jack follows the growing courtship of the titular character with an upstanding black woman in St. Louis. Through it, the reader gets an inside look at Jack’s doubts about God and eternity. The premise carries a lot of inherent drama, but the prodigal son that has floated at the edges of the other three books turns out to be, upon closer inspection, self-pitying and not very interesting. The fact that it chronologically precedes the other three books undercuts suspense about his choices. Caution: obscenities.
Susanna Clarke’s second novel is a stunning and strange story with no clear genre or comparison. The main character’s relationship to and questions about the House mirror both the reader’s confusion and modern man’s displacement in the world. It’s disorienting, disturbing, and compelling. Indeed, the House and the world, for Piranesi, are one and the same. This book is not for everyone, but readers interested in the concept of disenchantment in the modern worldview will find Clarke’s exploration of the idea fascinating. She asks whether we have really drained the world of meaning or if we have simply lost the ability to see it. The imagery is distinctly pagan, but reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ path to Christianity through his fascination with myth. Caution: obscenities.
The Dutch House
Ann Patchett traces the effects of unforgiveness and broken relationships over several generations, all swirling around a luxurious and strange house in rural Pennsylvania. A sister and brother, Maeve and Danny, grow up trying to reconcile with their own story of loss and fractured family. It explores how one person’s bitterness can overflow into those around them, spoiling even good things. And in the end, forgiveness isn’t easy or simple either. The characters are Roman Catholic, but it doesn’t seem to affect their lives beyond heightening relational tensions. It certainly doesn’t affect their sexual relationships, which are an unfortunate intrusion to the story. Caution: obscenities.
The Madness of Crowds
This latest Armand Gamache mystery tackles a post-pandemic plot. Released in August 2021, the novel’s description of the end of the pandemic comes off as optimistic and sentimental. But beneath failed COVID-19 predictions and mainstream language and morality, the biggest plot twist is the premise itself. The mystery hinges on a distinctly pro-life theme: the horror of euthanasia and mandatory abortions for infants with disabilities. The Canadian characters (and through them, their author) wrestle with the tension between their humane instincts and their acceptance of voluntary abortion and assisted suicide. Where do you draw the line? They don’t reach a conclusion, but the dignity of one character’s daughter with Down syndrome provides the moral center of the plot. Caution: obscenities.
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