Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Hour I First Believed and John Updike

This is a sequel to my earlier post about Wally Lamb's novel, The Hour I First Believed. Lamb has been called the Dostoevsky of our day, no doubt because he confronts the problem of evil with the relentless integrity of an Ivan Karamazov. But now that I have finished this fine book, and shed a few tears over it I admit, I'd say he is more of an Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene in his develoment of plot and character. There is no simplistic conversion of creed, but a deeper transformation of soul. Caelum is not a hero. He is as flawed as any of us, maybe more so. Maureen's sanctity and his own confrontation with generations of woundedness make this story a masterful recounting of spiritual journey. At first I had trouble connecting the deliberately simple prose and the pipe wrench wielding plot developments with the subtlety of spirit moving beneath the text. But then there is the Gospel of Mark, written crudely but a story of grace. I loved it!!! And I look forward now to his earlier books, particularly This Much I Know Is True.

But first I am reading John Updike's In The Beauty Of The Lillies. Updike is the 20th Century Protestant novelist. He was prolific and I have read only a few of his books. Lillies is the most explicitly theological. After his recent death, there was a flood of articles evaluating his work. In contrast to Lamb, Updike wrote poetically. His prose is elegant. Someone criticized his work for losing theme in style; they asked, "Is beauty enough?" Well, the idea that Updike lacked substance is just rediculous. But I am chiefly struck by that question: Is beauty enough? I would answer with a resounding Yes. We have too long held to an idea of God that failed to appeciate the beauty of divinity and the divinity of beauty. Thankfully, theological aesthetics has been rediscovered. Beauty is enough. More on the Beauty of the Lillies to come.

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