Thorton Wilder’s clerical gumshoe, red-haired Brother Juniper, investigates why the Almighty would, in his wisdom, commit an Act of God that drops 5-random travelers into a crevasse, along with the remains of the finest rope bridge in all Peru on July 20, 1747. Brother Juniper’s motive is not completely antiseptic, as he watched the 5-gesticulating ants take the plunge, as he too was headed to cross the bridge…”within ten minutes, myself…” After a six year investigation into why those particular ants had to meet their maker, Brother J publishes an enormous book related to the investigation. In it, the five victims are graded on Goodness, Piety and Usefulness. The book is declared heretical and burned in Lima’s public square along with its author.
The details of the five interconnected victims lives was a bit dull, so the read isn’t a pleasure. Still Wilder is an esteemed writer (The Bridge of San Luis Rey won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928) and won’t be outlawed for this book alone. The book does have a famous passage at the end, where speaking of the five who died, the Abbess (a great character) tells Dona Clara:
“But soon we shall die and all memory of these five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
That’s what the road sign says. 1280 souls, located as close to the assh*le of creation as you can get and under the care of High Sheriff Nick Corey. An amiable, even progressive fellow, as unlike that Sheriff Ken Lacey, who holds that colored folk don’t have souls and shouldn’t be counted. Riddicerlous! While backwards in his social views, ole Ken ain’t pre-zackly all bad. He does help handle those two pimps that were sassin Nick down by the whorehouse. But dealing with those pimps won’t help Nick win re-election against a truly fine man like Sam Gaddis. You see, Nick has an image problem.
Folks are starting to think he’s an active graft sucking crook, a womanizer and a do nothing Sheriff. What folks don’t realize is, Nick realizes the only thing he can do is sheriffin’ and he will stop at nothing to keep the job…and that means more than just Nick’s public vow to crack down on the coloreds and poor white trash who can’t pay their poll tax. It means anything.
This book is a fun read. It’s quick, colorful and quite a guessing game as you move along. Written from Nick’s perspective and in his native tongue, Jim Thompson has created a memorable rogue. It is shocking that the only film adaptation of this book is the French Coup de Torchon. Wake up Hollywood!
These are the most appreciated books mentioned on this blog during 2015. They weren’t published in 2015. A slight cop out on the Bronze Medal, but standards are eroding everywhere, why not here too….
Gold: Waiting for the Barbarians (J.M. Coetzee) – So simple, so thought provoking…how does he do it? Certainly a book for our times. How do you prepare for the seemingly barbaric enemy? Institute a police state or try to build bridges? Maybe Trump knows the answer. The book had a nice touch of old guy pervy-ness too.
Silver: The Stranger (Albert Camus) – Congratulations…you almost won. People spend careers studying this little pamphlet. Unassuming, but unforgettable. You will be thinking about the story when you are on a Coney Island beach blanket, having a Zima in Telluride, taking a dump in a Orelousas Waffle House.…essentially on & off for the rest of your life.
Bronze: (tie) Appointment in Samarra (John O’ Hara) & The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz) If John O’Hara were a Gen X Dominican, he’s be Junot Diaz. Well…maybe not. O’Hara is fixated on social strata, while Diaz deals in the ethnic, but both write with such intelligence that even a buffoon recognizes that a master storyteller is on a roll in these two books.
Sjon. Not a very descriptive designation for a guy whose culture uses a suffix in everyone’s family name to describe them as someone’s son or sen or dottir. That said, like George Dubya was a decider, Sjon is a describer. What he describes is the life of Jonas the Learned, exiled Icelandic mystic, naturalist, natural philosopher and accepted crackpot, during the 1630s.
Jonas’s misfortunes move between descriptions that are Iceland’s landscape, flora and fauna and the wind’s instrument that sits off its coast…his penal home of Gullbjorn’s Island. You will pull for Jonas against his mainland tormentors and hanker for him to give them their comeuppance upon his return from Copenhagen University. Unfortunately he returns to…plot buster…ruin. Sad.
There is sunshine in the North Sea. The laugh he shares with Rector Ole Worm over Danish King Christian IV’s unicorn horn. The most uproarious ghost story you are ever likely to hear. His love for his wife, his children. Sweet.
The book isn’t action packed, but it’s packed with interesting writing and plenty of oddities. Expect something modest and you will find it extraordinary.