Books and Book Reviews: May 2004 Archives

Aunt Dimity's Death


Aunt Dimity's Death is one of those "mysteries" posing as a cosy which is really just a pleasant break from heavy reading. It does not qualify under the strict golden-age rubric for a mystery and therefore a "cozy," the genre under which it would be filed if the investigation in the course of the novel involved a serious crime.

Nevertheless, this is highly recommended for those who desire a pleasant read. Our heroine, Lori, is down and out when she receives an urgent summons to a lawyers office where she learns about the death of a person she never knew really existed. Aunt Dimity was the figure of stories her mother used to tell her, not at all a real person. But suddenly here she is real as life and twice as dead and leaving behind a rather eccentric will. It seems Dimity has written a book of all the stories that Lori used to hear as a child and her will requires Lori to go to England and live inthe cottage where all of her papers are stored for a month. The point of the venture is to read through the papers and correspondence and by the end of that month she is to produce an introduction to the book of stories.

This is the set-up for a slight, but amusing, romantic comedy and very slight mystery involving both Lori's mother and Aunt Dimity. Mix in a dash of "romance" in the modern sense (and, come to think of it, in the old high sense as well) and you have a really wonderful summer break or beach book for those so inclined.

Recommended unreservedly (and thanks to Tom who originally recommended it to me).

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Reading List


Presently reading:

Signs and Wonders Philip Gulley
Decline and Fall Evelyn Waugh
Elizabeth Costello J. M. Coetzee
Christian Perfection and Conteplation Fr. R. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God Fr. Kilian Healey O. Carm.
Aunt Dimity's Death (Don't Recall author)

Waiting in the wings,

I, Roger Williams Mary Lee Settle
Grimm's Last Fairytale (Don't recall author)
Evan Help Us Rhys Bowen
The Spoils of Poynton Henry James
The Italian Journals Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Dust of Eden Thomas Sullivan

and a host of others. I need more time to read. I need more time at the beach. No, let's be real--I want more time to read and more time at the beach and in present circumstances those FEEL like needs.

In point of fact, praise God, I need very little indeed. I am most thankful. But my list of wants goes on forever--hence the frequent abjurations to detachment. Perhaps some of you all will achieve it and give me the secret.

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Disgrace J. M. Coetzee


There's way, way too much to write about coming from this weekend, so I'll get to it gradually. In the meantime, here's a review of my "beach-reading."

This book won the Booker Award, a rather prestigious book award, similar, I suppose to the National Book Award here in the States. Coetzee is another of the great line of South African writers in the tradition of Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer, who look carefully at their society then and now and tell us what the results are for the people who live its history.

Disgrace is a tangled knot of a story, richly satisfying in the intricacy both of plot and of characterization. I found myself not always sympathetic to the thoughts and motives of the main characters, but always sympathetic to them. It was an interesting paradox. I would read something and say, "Stop being and ass," as though I were talking to a friend in need of a bracing reality check.

The story centers around a man who has an affair with a student and forces the issue in such a way as he is dismissed from his job. That's the simplistic view of events. As you come to understand the character, you'll find that it is much more tangled than that. He goes to live with his daughter on a farm in another part of the Cape and experiences there a day of violence that transforms both lives.

What is most particularly interesting is how articulate the main character is; how simultaenously out of touch and in-touch. He seems to know himself so well, but he discovers himself through the art of compostion and producing a "chamber opera" about the life of Byron and one of his lvoers.

The book is about passion--love and hate. Passion is the underlying motif and the principle element of everything that occurs. Passion or lack of it defines each person in the book--what they are passionate about and how it expresses itself is one of the strengths--no part of the brilliance--of this very readable, very engaging, very tender and frightening book. I was stunned by the beauty of it and I look forward to reading others by the same writer.

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For those who are not familiar with him, Philip Gulley is the author of several novels and books of short stories set in the small town of Harmony, Indiana (I believe). He does for Quakers in Indiana what Jan Karon does for Episcopalians in North Carolina, sometimes with very humorous results. Take for example the following excerpt from the most recent Harmony novel. The scene is that Sam, the pastor, is trying to convince Alice Stout not to teach Sunday School any more. Alice suffers from Alzheimer's and spends most of her time at a constant care facility, but because she's been the Sunday School teacher from time immemorial, she's dragged out each Sunday to teach the class.

from Life Goes On
Philip Gulley

"Did Jonah really get swallowed by a fish?" my son Addison asked.

"You bet your bippee, he did," Alice said. "You can't run from God. He'll hunt you down and nail your hide to the wall, if He's a mind to."

"He's kinda like Superman, except He has a beard and He's a lot older," Billy Grant explained to Addison.l

"Not exactly," I said. "But that's not the important part of the story anyway. The important thing is that God loved the Ninevites and sent Jonah to help them."

"Who were the Ninevites?" Addison asked.

"A bunch of perverts, if you ask me," Alice said. "The Lord sent two angels to warn them, and the men of the city went mad with lust."

"I believe you're thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah," I pointed out to Alice.

"Ninevites, Sodomites, Gomorites. What's the difference?" she said. "They all needed killing if you ask me."

And people wonder why pastors burn out at an alarming rate.

I tried to wrap up the lesson. "Let's just remember that God taught Jonah an important lesson about loving your enemies."

"The thing about Ninevites, you lop off one or two of their heads, and the rest of 'em fall in line pretty quick," Alice declared.

Being crowned Sunday School Queen appeared to bring out the worst in her.

Hoping to redeem the lesson, I asked the children if they had any enemies they could love.

"How about the Russians?" Billy Grant asked.

I explained that the Russainds weren't our enemies anymore.

"Bullfeathers," Alice said, turning toward Billy. "Don't ever trust a Commie, son. They'd sooner slit your throat than look at you."

The sad thing was, Alice Stout with her mind gone was not much different than who she was when she'd been in full possession of it.

Sometimes I wish I were the kind of pastor who challeneged unkind behavior. Mostly I just complain about it to my wife. The upside of timidity is job security. The downside is that my church's idea of suffering for the sake of righteousness is eating coffee cake instead of donuts.

On a more positive note, we were probably the only church in America that had a Sunday School Queen.

If you favor gentle humor with small dollops of sermonizing (as at the end here) you could do worse than Philip Gulley.

Next up Karen or Kathy Valentine, who does the same thing for Catholics in ?Minnesota? or some cold place.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and Book Reviews category from May 2004.

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