Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What I Learn from Readers (Part 3): Required Reading

I was learning a lot from the readers of my novel Dancing Priest. Some had read it as the kind of story they’d like to be part of, being used by God in the ways the novel described Michael Kent, the main character, and even some of the minor characters. A pastor had discovered what he called the best explanation of lifestyle evangelism he’d come across.

And then there was the reader who worked for a big, well-known software firm on the West Coast.

I’d corresponded with this man before. We followed each other’s blogs, and we had corporate career experiences that had much in common (good and bad). I didn’t know he had bought Dancing Priest, but he had. And one day, about three months after it had been published, he sent me a note.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Christian Poets & Writers.

Top photograph by Christopher Jolly via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Poets and Poems: Jennifer Wallace and “Almost Entirely”

The 1981movie Chariots of Fire includes a scene of the Scottish runner Eric Liddell talking to a group of spectators after a race. Liddell asks a rhetorical question about faith, and running and winning a race: “Where does the power come from?” And he answers it by saying, “The power comes from within.”

That scene kept playing through my mind as I read the new poetry collection Almost Entirely by Jennifer Wallace. The collections 74 poems are about faith in the context of being human and living a human life, and looking within to find what can sustain and grow. As much as we might try, we know that life is not those Facebook happy face emojis. But neither is it the sad face. It is both, and sometimes at the same time.

What Wallace does is to look deeply at what makes us human, and what is within us that keeps reaching for the divine.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"Autumn" by Ali Smith

It takes time to understand what the novel Autumn by Scottish writer Ali Smith is about. And when you do, you realize you still may not know, not fully, not completely. You peel back the proverbial onion, and keep peeling. Or you discover what you’re reading is a kachina doll, with a story inside a story inside still another story.

Elisabeth is in her early 30s. She studied art history and criticism. She grew up in a fatherless home, reared by a mother who cared for her but didn’t seem too interested. When she was a child, she becomes friends with Daniel Gluck, the elderly man who lives next door. Daniel becomes the catalyst that opens her intellectual mind, and he gets her to see things she never would have seen otherwise.

But who is Daniel? We first meet him when Elisabeth is visiting him in an assisted living home. He’s more than a century old, and he sleeps most of the time. We see his dreams, and we see small and rather incomplete snatches of his past, like the sister arrested by the Nazis in France, who steps out of the police van into a crowd of women and disappears.

But as the story develops, we begin to wonder who Elisabeth is. She’s an 8-year-old child. She’s a young woman in college. She is one of the first art critics to become interested in British pop artist and actress Pauline Boty, who died at 28 and had an uncredited role in the 1966 movie Alfie that starred Michael Caine. It is through her research on Boty that Elisabeth becomes interested in Christine Keeler, the showgirl who helped to blow up British politics and the government of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1963 (Keller died Dec. 5; she was simultaneously having affairs with a British cabinet minister and a Soviet diplomat).

The story moves back and forth through the past and present. Slowly we come to see that Smith is writing about women, and the world they inhabit that is shaped by men. Elisabeth herself is able to break partially free because of the man Daniel, and even then she (and we) are not sure what she’s breaking free from, or if she’s truly broken free.

Ali Smith
Smith is one of Scotland’s leading writers. The author of five short story collections and nine novels, she’s received numerous prizes and recognitions. Autumn was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She’s also the author of several plays. She received a joint degree in English language and literature from the University of Aberdeen, studied at Cambridge, and worked at the University of Strathclyde as a lecturer in Scottish, English, and American literature. She lives in Cambridge. Her most recent novel, Winter, has just been published in the United States.

Autumn is a quietly powerful novel, one that moves in unexpected directions. It’s unsettling. It’s unconventional. And it is rather remarkable.

Top photograph by Bernd Schultz via Unsplash. Used with permission. Photograph of Ali Smith via Wikipedia. Used with permission under Creative Commons.