The Book of Jotham

 

I have had the Book of Jotham on my list of books to read for sometime, but there are so many books and so few dollars that I had not gotten around to it. Then I became made aware that the author of the book, Arthur Powers, was going to read and review Tobit’s Dog for the Catholic Fiction website.

I like to review books I read, but try to avoid as best I can any sense of “tit for tat” reviewing. It works out however, that the review is evidently written, but not yet published. So I knew the time to strike on The Book of Jotham was now. My wife, Sherri, has our prime account on amazon, so she downloaded it for me under their borrowing plan onto her original kindle so I could read it (she’s all fancy Fire now!).

This is not a long book. I actually read it in less than three hours. To me, it isn’t really even a novel so much as a long, beautifully crafted prose poem. Do not let that scare you away from reading this book. It is a smooth, organic read. The narrative reminded me a bit of John Gardner’s Grendel, but without being the least bit derivative.

Often we will describe a book as “hard to put down”, in this case I would say it is “easy to keep up.” There is scant reliance on subtle manipulation of chapters as used by so many authors (myself included) to break the short story-like arc of each chapter that make a convenient place to stop reading for awhile. No cliff hanger chapters to seduce you into the next chapter and bind your interest. No, this is like being a leaf on a smooth, irresistible current of water.

I suffered from a bit of in-ordinate pride when I quickly realized that, in a sense, we are Jotham.   An observation to which author admits  in an afterword: yet, this is no simple allegory. The Book of Jotham works on too many levels for that. It also expresses the essence of the often talked about “personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ without losing sight of the veiled power of the divine. It is also a bittersweet hymn to those among us who are physically and mentally challenged.

Read this book. If you have amazon prime borrow it. That costs you nothing and puts a few bucks in the authors bank account. In my case, this is a book I will want to own in the paper and ink version (still the most beloved method of reading for me, with its full range of the senses). It may have to wait until my bank account has a few more of the monetary version of Star Trek’s expendable crew persons, or I may slip it onto a birthday or Christmas wish list, but I’m going to want a personal, old school version of it sooner rather than later.

Thinking upon this further, I think in the character of Jotham we can see elements of Karl Rahner’s Anonymous Christian notion.  I do not know if the author meant for that to be the case, but we can see how Jotham responds to grace with a spiritual instinct rather than an interior intellectual dialog.  There are obvious impediments to his intellectual capacity to  understand, but his heart knows.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B1Z7VWI/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=02B64ZPNS76WDFYA1BMT&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200382&pf_rd_i=507846

N.T. Wright

I have been much influenced in my theology by Rev. N. T. Wright. I don’t, of course, agree completely with him on all things (or I’d be an Anglican or he a Roman Catholic), but his understanding of union of Heaven and Earth as the ultimate reality (as opposed of the notion that somehow it’s all about just going to Heaven) clicked for me. It was a simpler, clearer version of the concepts in De Chardin’s work.

In any event, here is a blog with video you might like or at least consider.

 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yimcatholic/2014/06/n-t-wright-on-reality-gay-marriage-and-being-on-the-wrong-side-of-history.html

The Paper Route

It was my pleasure recently to get a copy of the art book “The Paper Route.”  It is by a local New Bern artist, Gerry King. I don’t know if I would have liked it as much as I do if it had not been art from/about/around New Bern, but I do know that I would have liked it to some degree. The art is just my kind of thing. I linked to it on the Tobit’s Dog facebook page, but just feel compelled to say more.

Reading and looking, I was struck by the familiarity despite, that at the time Mr. King was a paper boy, New Bern was a much more racially divided city than it is now. Part of the familiarity for me was that I lived in the historical section of New Bern from about the 6th through 12th grades. The revitalization of those old houses was just beginning. It is a beautiful area now, but somehow seems a little sterile compared to the old days. Things seemed more organic and the old houses bore a layered patina of their history back then. 

That comes across proudly and profoundly in Mr. King’s art. Rainy Day On Queen Street, for instance, evokes not just the visual memories, but fresh scents of a landscape washed clean by a shower, the sounds of water dripping off roof eaves and trees, the sound of tires hissing in the rain.

Liberty Street Back Yard, from my perspective  could just as easily have been Change Street Back Yard because it has the same rambling organic quality I remember from my middle school years. 

Then there is The Letter Writer, in the interest of full disclosure, I absolutely love art work that depicts paths, doors and windows, so I was bound to feel the emotional evocation of this piece. I’ve seen these images in my own life many times. The window  and an atmosphere like layers of time between the glass and the girl/woman beyond. Outstanding.

I could go on and on about each piece. There’s something about many New Bernians, and Ex-New Bernians, that when talking about the old city they’ll sometimes refer to it amongst themselves as “The Bern”. That description is a loaded one. For one New Bernian to say to another “The Bern” is like a code that unfolds more than a mere geographical location. It is a reference to place, time, people, weather, experiences we have somehow shared. The Paper Route captures it all. If someone said I had to describe the book in two words, well to fellow New Bernians, my response would be simply, “The Bern.”

Check out the website: http://artbygerryking.com/

The Last Ugly Person by Roger B. Thomas

I chanced upon the short story collection “The Last Ugly Person”  because the author wrote a favorable and insightful review of Tobit’s Dog. We traded some messages and emails that led to me sending him a copy of my earlier novel, Bogfoke, and him sending me a copy of his collection of short stories.

Short stories seem out of favor these days, and this collection proves that is too bad. This particular collection ranges from the prose-poem length “I Have Slaved For You” to the near novella length “Numaris.” Like C.S. Lewis or Charles Williams, they lean much on allegory.

The Last Ugly Person, from which the collection gets is name, is a particularly finely crafted story. I mean, it is jewel-like in its precision.  Of course, the problem with allegory is that it is very difficult to give many plot details for fear of revealing too much. I have mentioned Lewis and Williams, but there seemed also to be a bit of Steinbeck influencing this story. I was particularly reminded of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. It is entirely possible, however, that I am connecting my own reading history to something that had no influence on the author.

Numaris, was nearly as well crafted,and was a little more entertaining to me owing to what I think  are Tolkienian influences (and I love Tolkien). I should stress here, though, that each of these stories stand on their own well apart from any influences. It’s just that when constrained in reviewing them by their very nature, I feel compelled to try and praise them by “type”. Numaris could be an excellent novel, or series of novellas if the author could come up with suitable denouement without straining the veil of allegory. It was easily the most “fun” of the stories in the collection.

The Purging. A story that reminded me of a gritty, sand in your teeth, sweaty hat-band Western combined with Arthurian legend. Yeah, it was that strange and compelling. At first I wasn’t sure I liked it, due to the nature of its allegory and my own theological bent, but it grew on me while reading it, and even more so afterward as I reconsidered it. It won me over.

I Have Slaved For You, was a short, short story that reminded me of parable done as a prose poem. I’m a fan of prose poems.

All in all an excellent collection. I wish short story collections could make a comeback. This collection that is over a decade in release just underscores how much they are missed (at least by me). Roger Thomas has a forthcoming novel  from Ignatius Press, The Accidental Marriage.This collection has more than whet my appetite to check it out.

For the Joe-boy fans.

I’ve had a number of people who have read Tobit’s Dog mention how much they liked Joe-boy, the mule. They say he has a lot of personality packed into his appearances in the book. I’ve always thought that mules, while often described with the stereotype of stubborn and ornery, seem to have distinct, very individual personalities. More dog like in that than horse like.

I watched the “Mule Rider” segment the Our State televisionprogram and greatly enjoyed it. Fans of Tobit’s Dog and Bogfoke might also find it interesting because much of it is recorded in the coastal areas that served as inspirtaion for the settings of both those books.

http://video.unctv.org/video/2365088766/

Galvaston County Daily News review of Tobit’s Dog.

Only the first few sentences of this review were available online due to subscription format. I have,  however, obtained the full review via email, originating with the author.

 

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Tobit Freeman Messenger has two strikes against him in the rural North Carolina of the Depression years. He is black and Catholic.

Despite this, in “Tobit’s Dog,” a novel by Michael Nicholas Richard, Tobit is a respected man in his community. He is known among both blacks and whites for probity and honesty.

“Tobit’s Dog” borrows from the Old Testament book “Tobit,” placing it in modern times. It opens with Tobit’s prosperous days in the past.

Formerly a purchasing agent for Judge Oliver, the area’s largest landowner, Tobit was dismissed after Judge Oliver’s death by the judge’s son. When that son died, his son inherited. That man, now county sheriff, holds a grudge against Tobit.

Tobit has the house he bought in better times, and, more importantly, his wife, Anna, a son in his late teens Tobias, and a faithful dog Okra. Between what Tobit earns restoring furniture and tools, Anna makes cleaning houses and Tobias makes as an auto mechanic at Crafty Forgeron’s shop, they survive.

A local African-American boy is found hanged, apparently in a Klan lynching. No one has the courage to cut down the body and prepare it for burial. A local black minister asks Tobit to help. Removing the body, Tobit discovers the boy was not lynched, but beaten to death.

When Tobit reports this, things go very wrong. The sheriff arrests Tobit for disturbing a crime scene. While under arrest, Tobit is blinded in a freak accident. Released, Tobit is unable to work. The family slips into poverty.

Then, Astier Freeman Losrouge comes calling, looking up relatives. A cousin from New Orleans, he is a traveling musician, who goes by Ace Redbone (Redbone is a play on Losrouge). Swapping yarns about mutual relatives, Tobit is reminded of a cousin to whom he lent money years earlier.

Tobit lost track of him, but Redbone knows the man has done well as a merchant and knows where he lives. At Redbone’s urging Tobias, Redbone and Okra set off afoot to collect the debt.

An adventure that yields love, redemption and justice follows. “Tobit’s Dog” is a magical book, delivering a thoughtful message with engaging prose.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

 

An unusual, and very much appreciated review.

Novel Tobit’s Dog by Michael Nicholas Richard was read by many Americans today. This novel, without the need to patronize, featuring the topic of honesty, sincerity, and true love is really very difficult to find in a modern society that is often being racist. Hopefully this book can be immediately translated into Indonesian.

The above is the best google translate can do with the facebook review offered by Paul Heru Wibowo. It has to be the most unusual and intriguing review to date.

 

https://www.facebook.com/paulheru?fref=ufi

 

I should add that I’m not completely sure this was a review. It might well have been a “share” with a translation into Indonesian of the book’s themes, followed by an appeal for a translation into Indonesian. Still, seriously cool.