Sunday, June 16, 2013
Omensetter's Luck (William H. Gass)
Read: 27 April to 6 May 2013
5 / 5 stars
This book is elegant madness. Beauty given meaning both because and in spite of life's brutality. Chaos in 300 pages of one gorgeously rendered sentence chasing another and another and another down the spiral of ebbing sanity and diminishing credibility.
The Writer is God. Don't you ever forget that, as this has always been the case. Much in the fashion of a lonely deity or (at the risk of redundancy) a scientific force dividing What a Thing Is in half to create What a Thing Isn't But the Opposing Thing Is, the Writer creates something from nothing, wringing words from a blank page, finding meaning in babbling, rambling nonsense. What greater accomplishment is there to coax a stunning monument to all the stuff of life into existence on the uninvitingly barren terrain where a gaping void once stretched its unyielding maw?
The bulk of this novel is built on the crumbling foundation of a man who leeches off the ugliest parts of religion and his resulting slow decay, both of the mind and the soul. This is also where the most stunning moments of primitive wonder transform Omensetter's Luck from a mere battle of wills, a hackneyed rehash of the ongoing confrontation of good and evil, to something much less -- and also much, much more -- than a black-and-white yarn spinning in the same prescribed direction as its many tired predecessors.
Religion, despite its modern familiarity as a weapon of hate, a favorite manipulative tactic of politicians, a tool of regress, is ideally a mode of sympathetic understanding that relies on the belief in prevailing goodness, of doing unto others, of embracing the bigger-picture benefit of turning the other cheek or biting one's tongue when plucking both eyes from the offending face would be all the more -- though momentarily and devastatingly -- gratifying. It's denying the flesh to feed the soul. Here, a full century before it's almost the expected perversion of a benign idea, Reverend Furber, paying no mind to the hypocrisy he wields in flagrant embrace of the deadliest sins, clings fast to the biblical literalism that only makes sense to a deranged and poisoned mind. It is his stubborn refusal to see the world through the less judgmental eyes of a man not bound by dogmatic rigidness -- say, the sort of man who attributes the blessings of his life to sheer, dumb luck instead of self-congratulatory though self-defeatingly empty faith -- that is his fatal flaw.
(When one's declining physical health or dissolving mental acuity reach the preset point of no return, does it become impossible to tell the dreams of the younger self from the life actually lived? What happens when personal fantasies begin to outnumber actual events that were shared by many, anchoring one soul to the greater landscape of communal experience? Are one's external and internal memories meant to bleed into each other to ease the inevitable transition of the experience of the conscious self back to the unconscious cycle of nature?)
Opposing forces will always be at odds but that battle is often a stalemate in neutral. There isn't always a winner -- in fact, in a traditional sense, there is more often two comparable losers -- because stasis is the natural way of things: When two objects are as equally matched as they are intended to be, order is maintained and the interlocking but always-warring pieces connecting that one integral duality to those upon which the rest of the A-and-also-B world relies, the cycle of existence remains in constant, indifferent motion.