Tess of the d’Urbervilles

tumblr_kvj83mv8YY1qz6t3mo1_400I recently finished Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which languished on my to-do list for far too many years.  I loved it greatly.

I knew I was in for a special experience when I saw Hardy defend his controversial work with this quote from St. Jerome in an introduction:

“If an offense come of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed.”

Hardy’s style impressed me.  It wasn’t loquaciously luxurious, nor was it bitterly Spartan, but as a work of both sympathy and criticism, it melded those two extremes into a lovely new amalgam.  Some examples I liked:

“She thought, without exactly wording the thought, how strange and godlike was a composer’s power, who from the grave could lead through sequences of emotion, which he alone had felt at first, a girl like her who had never heard of his name, and never would have a clue to his personality.” Ch. 13

“Unexpectedly he began to like the outdoor life for its own sake, and for what it brought, apart from its bearing on his own proposed career. Considering his position he became wonderfully free from the chronic melancholy which is taking hold of the civilized races with the decline of belief in a beneficent Power. For the first time of late years he could read as his musings inclined him, without any eye to cramming for a profession, since the few farming handbooks which he deemed it desirable to master occupied him but little time.

“He grew away from old associations, and saw something new in life and humanity. Secondarily, he made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known but darkly–the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees, waters and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate things.” Ch. 18

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Book Review: The Shack

shack1I only read the first six chapters of The Shack, and I won’t be reading any more.  Author William P. Young uses a story about a man who loses a young daughter to violence, and then accepts an invitation from God to meet with Him at the scene of the crime, as a vehicle for his own pseudo-theological pontificating.  I’d call it the philosophy of men mingled with scripture, but Young never quotes any scripture.

He’s a competent enough writer but, like too many I’ve read, he makes his protagonist have thoughts and feelings that are too easy just to move the story along.

Mack: “I’m angry about the death of my daughter.”

God: “Let’s talk about something else.”

Mack: “Okay!”

That’s my next problem with The Shack: as soon as Mack comes to the cabin to commune with God, God proceeds to welcome him with…a lecture about the nature of the Trinity.  And it goes on for the rest of the chapter.  I’m not sure which bothered me more: that Mack would so calmly go along with the plan, or that Young would have the audacity to use his character’s pain as a vehicle for selling his own ideas about religion.

And make no mistake about it, that’s what The Shack is for.  Young has an axe to grind with anyone who “limits” God by suggesting that he has any kind of concrete church, truths, salvation system, or other such apparently trivial nonsense like that.  You know, the little things that religion doesn’t really need.  No, the God of The Shack is a stereotypical, multicultural, I’m-OK-you’re-OK, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya kind of God, exactly the sort of silly, watered down, narcissistic Baby Boomer fantasy that gets made fun of with things like “Buddy Christ” statues.  Continue reading