Thursday, July 24, 2014

To Hell or not to Hell

Dear Misfits,

The Misfits at our meeting . . . concluded that Charles Williams is an intense, imaginative, often baffling author.  He was a member of the Inklings, the group of creative Oxford Christians of the 1930s and 1940s that included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Though he excelled in many literary genres, Williams is best remembered for his poetry and his original fiction.  As regards his fiction,  Descent in to Hell is the second novel we have read; we read All Hallows Eve last year (October, 2013)  We conclude that Descent in to Hell is the better novel.

As told in the novel, the "descent" in the title happens to an ordinary (if extraordinarily selfish) historian named Wentworth, whose daily choices to cheat on the truth slowly but surely lead him into a terrifying state of isolation and egotism. Heaven, by contrast, is increasingly inhabited by the novel's heroine, Pauline Anstruther, who learns to face her fears and to love the truth exactly as it is.  In the end, Pauline finds salvation while Wentworth is destroyed psychologically and physically.
Descent into Hell is not an easy read. Although we recommend the novel, it definitely needs to be read:

(1) Repetitively (more than once)
(2) Not rapidly. Read it slowly as it is not “popcorn fiction”.
(3) With access to Google to reference obscure facts and numerous historical characters.
Pax Christi,
 Misfit Buzz

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Charming Billy: Ripped apart and plowed through

Dear Misfits,
We’ve finished another wonderfully written novel.  Alice McDermott’s story of Charming Billy depicts a man beset with an uncontrollable addiction to alcohol.  The novel is a poignant evocation of an Irish American Catholic family as they struggle to understand the tragic affliction of one of their members, a man who lived a life completely in the grip of alcoholism.  The novel asks this basic question: Was Billy Lynch's death by alcohol the result of being told that Eva, the love of his life, had died shortly after she returned to Ireland.  Billy finds out 30 years later that she had not died as he was led to believe by his cousin but that she had betrayed him by marrying another man in Ireland?  Or was his death caused by a genetic weakness for alcohol?  These two questions are tough to answer. 
Long Island Beach

As we see in the story of Billy, alcoholism can be a deeply troubling, family destroying affliction.  Perhaps the most telling line in the novel is expressed by the narrator when she observes at Billy’s funeral that he had “ripped apart, plowed through, as alcoholics tend to do, the great deep, tightly woven fabric of affection that was some part of the emotional life, the life of love, of everyone in the room.” 
In end we are left to decide for ourselves if Billy’s alcoholism was “a disease” as thought by many in the family or was it a personal choice as observed by his cousin Dennis when he says  Billy always had a reason to drink because, “an alcoholic can always find a reason but never needs one”. 
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