Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Andrew Davidson has produced a first novel of stunning depth. This is a Gothic tale of love and redemption across time and unspeakable tribulation.
At the level of plot, the story is one of an unlikely relationship between a man horribly scarred from being burned in an automobile crash and a psychiatric patient and sculptor who cares for him.
At a thematic level, the book is a profound examination of the nature of love, beauty, ugliness, suffering, healing, sanity, reality, haven and hell. In the passage that follows, the protagonist reflects on his two lives - one as a physically beautiful young man and the second as a scarred burn victim.
"I hesitated to claim possession of my face, but this was also why I had to: if I didn't, it seemed inevitable that my face would take possession of me. The cliche goes that at twenty a person has the face that God gave him, but at forty he has the face he has earned. But if the face and the soul are intertwined so that the face can reflect the soul, surely it must follow that the soul can also reflect the face. As Nietzsche wrote: 'The criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo (a monster in face, and a monster in soul).'
But Nietzsche was wrong. I was born beautiful and lived beautiful for thirty-plus years, and during all that time I never once allowed my soul to know love. My unblemished skin was numb armor used to attract women with its shininess, while repelling any true emotion and protecting the wearer. The most erotic of actions were merely technical: sex was mechanics; conquest a hobby; my body constantly used, but rarely enjoyed. In short, I was born with all the advantages that a monster never had, and I chose to disregard them all.
Now my armor had melted away and been replaced with a raw wound. The line of beauty that I had used to separate myself from people was gone, replaced by a new barrier - ugliness - that kept people away from me, whether I liked it or not. One might expect the result to be the same, but that was not entirely true. While I was now surrounded by far fewer people than before, they were far better people, When my former acquaintances took a quick glance at me in the burn ward before turning around to walk out, they left the door open for Marianne Engel, Nan Edwards, Gregor Hnatiuk, and Sayuri Mizumoto.
What an unexpected reversal of fate: only after my skin was burned away did I finally become able to feel. Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart: I accepted this atrocious face and abominable body because they were forcing me to overcome the limitations of who I am, while my previous body allowed me to hide them.
I am not a hero in soul and never will be, but I am better than I was. Or so I tell myself, and for now, that is enough." (Pages 370-371)
Only someone who has wrestled deeply with existential conundrums would be able to write with such depth and clarity. Davidson has clearly been involved in such a life-altering wrestling match. The reader is the beneficiary of the results of his grappling with these deep issues.
The characters that the author has created to weave this gripping metaphysical tale are all very real and very believable - even when their actions and words may seem implausible.
This is a deeply moving book. I await Davidson's next offerings with eager anticipation.
I often talk and write about those who are serving and have served our nation in a variety of roles. In that vein, I have frequently mentioned 1st LT Rob Seidel, a West Point graduate who gave his life in Iraq three years ago. Rob's family - his parents, Bob and Sandy, and his brother, Stephen - have worked hard to keep Rob alive in our memories and in our hearts.
They recently made me aware of a wonderful gesture that has been done by Dr. Robert Saidel and his wife in Gouverneur, NY. The memorial garden that the Saidel's maintain is located close to the home of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, where Lieutenant Seidel trained.
Video of Memorial Garden
My "take away" from watching this video is a fresh reminder that it is possible to make a tragedy redemptive; it is possible to turn a loss into an opportunity to give. Both the Saidel's of Gouverneur, NY and the Seidel's of Gettysburg - united in their common grief of having lost a young son - have planted seeds of healing that continue to flourish and grow.
For whom can you "plant a garden" - whether that garden be literal or figurative?
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
My good friend, Sean Snook, recently finished his first 30 days of deployment in Afghanistan. He has posted a brief video on YouTube that chronicles the sights that captured his attention. There are lots of shots of helicopters, the faces of Afghani children, barbed wire and mountains - a dizzying melange that I suspect accurately reflects what a "typical" day may be like for some of our soldiers.
YouTube Video from Afghanistan
Please keep Sean and his comrades in your prayers as they seek to serve with honor.