Friday, May 7, 2010
Degrees of separation: Moore, DiCamillo, Adichie, Tropper
Recently I read four books that seem very different from one another, yet when I finished, I realize common themes thread through them.
Christopher Moore's Lamb has a lot of the author's trademark: breezy dialogues, humor, humor, and yes, more humor, often of the crude sort. Even the subtitle tells you this book is likely to contain a good dose of irreverence: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Yet underneath all that sarcasm and sacrilegious poking-fun lurks an authentic truth-seeker. And if the book itself didn't make me think, the author's afterword certainly did. The voice and tone of those pages are so different, I would have sworn they belonged to somebody else . But they don't, and it was truly eye-opening for me to see how sincerity and cynicism, respect and reverence can marry.
The Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has none of the light-heartedness of Lamb. It is a serious book on serious subjects, yet like Lamb, religion is on every page. As in Lamb, the readers are never told it's bad to do certain things in the name of religion, yet to see how the characters interpret their faith, we can't help but shudder, or at least reconsider our own beliefs and actions as a result of those beliefs.
I got the recommendation of Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You from the same place, over at the DGLM blog, when Jim McCarthy recommended books to readers based on the last five books they read. And actually the book he recommended to me is Geek Love, but when I checked out the other recommendations, Adichie's and Tropper's stood out as ones I thought I would enjoy as well.
Religion sets up the backdrop for This is Where I Leave You. A family, who hasn't been very religious, has to sit shiva for a week when the father passed away. Like Lamb, Where I Leave You is filled with wicked wit and a (over)preponderance of sex. And like Purple Hibiscus, it explores dynamics among family members in an honest and raw manner.
Now, how on earth would I link these to Kate DiCamillo, you're thinking? Well, let me try. The book I just finished is The Magician's Elephant. A book that is written in a dreamy, almost surreal manner, where strange people do inexplicable things and where the lives of most of the characters are filled with regrets and sorrow. A book that is about magic. A book that is for middle graders.
What is the one thing that strikes me the most in the book? Not the quirky characters, or the amazing writing. It's hope.
The main event in the story drops into the lives of many who are dejected, tired, and given up. Yet, as it unfolds, every one of them finds hope.
And it is also hope that ties all of these diverse books together for me.
There is hope for the truth-seeker. If you don't buy into organized religion, if you find some of the practice or actions taken by practitioners abhorrent, you don't have to lose hope in your search. You don't even have to give into cynicism. It's fine and good even, to question standard practices; it's essential that you don't allow the sense of right and wrong, good and bad within you to be tainted by what you think the oppressive religious lot are insisting. Truth is not the exclusive property of those who claim they have it. Truth can be sought and found.
There is hope for the one stuck with people they don't know what to do with. People can learn to understand one another, even when the ways are clumsy and stupid, even when most of us prefer to shift blame and hold grudges, even when we will make lots of mistakes. If there is a bond, if there is love, then we will find ways to exist together.
I am not sure why I am in the sort of mood. Or maybe I do. Maybe that's what happens when I open myself to words and ideas and emotions that authors have poured into their books.