In his 14th novel, Don DeLillo addresses universal themes through the particularity of two lives affected by the events of 9/11. The omniscient narrator flits between Keith Neudecker and his estranged wife, Lianne, as they try to come to terms with the personal and national trauma of that day.
On a rainy Georgia night near the end of the Civil War, a soldier named Arly, who is more interested in survival than piety, addresses God about his young companion Will, who “thinks an army at war is a reasonable thing. . . . He thinks we live in a sane life and time, which you know as well as I is not what you designed for us sinners.”
Many novels have been written from the point of view of someone railing against an oppressive religious upbringing. Few, however, are as funny yet sympathetic as Miriam Toews’s outstanding third novel, which won last year’s Governor General’s Award in Canada. Toews beat out Alice Munro for the prize—no mean feat.
One of the rewards of reading Louise Erdrich’s fiction is that she takes us into a world few people know, that of the Ojibwe people, who follow traditional ways while also living under the influence of Christianity.
This first novel is getting a lot of attention because its author, New Republic book critic James Wood, is known for his merciless criticism of well-known novelists. But of greater interest to Christian Century readers is its handling of religious themes.
Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry's novel is as straightforward and unpretentious as its title. No pyrotechnics, no metafictional irony, no attempts to draw attention to itself. Yet, like its title ("family" as adjective or noun, "matters" as noun or verb), it invites multiple readings.
Canadian writer Yann Martel, winner of the 2002 Booker Prize, sets up his delightful story with a clever "author's note" in which an elderly man in Pondicherry, India, tells the author, "I have a story that will make you believe in God." With little fanfare, he hooks the reader into a postmodern novel, with stories within the story, questions about the veracity of the story or storyteller, and
Often we look to find ourselves, to learn from our forebears who we are. If that past--unreliable at best--is unavailable, we may have to use our imaginations to reconstruct it. This is the dilemma Jonathan Safran Foer presents in his stunning debut novel.
Atonement. By Ian McEwan. Doubleday, 351 pp., $26.00.
The title of Ian McEwan's novel sounds like a theology text. But few if any books of theology will grab readers by the lapels and pull them into their world like this novel, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize.
Tolstoy's dictum that "each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" is played out in each of these fine novels. The dysfunctional family in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections mirrors the dysfunctions of the wider society.
"Time seems to pass," the opening line of Don DeLillo's 12th novel, could sum up this spare, evocative work. The story begins with an intimate portrait of a married couple at breakfast in a rented summer cottage. The accumulating detail and realistic dialogue introduce the novel's theme of awareness. Lauren Hartke and Rey Robles speak to one another yet do not always hear what is said.
The abundance of ideas Richard Powers throws at readers can feel overwhelming. As I read this novel, Powers's seventh, I was tempted to try to identify each literary allusion or reference to popular culture. Yet, though Powers is one of our foremost novelists of ideas, his narratives engage our attention through characters who do more than toss around profound thoughts.
Art and religion, in their different ways, seek to find the center of things, the reality at the heart of the concrete. At times, they meet. Mark Salzman explores contemplative prayer in his brief, beautifully written third novel. It's the story of Sister John of the Cross, a member of a Carmelite monastery outside Los Angeles.