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The Blood of the Lamb

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4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  579 ratings  ·  81 reviews
The most poignant of all De Vries's novels, The Blood of the Lamb is also the most autobiographical. It follows the life of Don Wanderhop from his childhood in an immigrant Calvinist family living in Chicago in the 1950s through the loss of a brother, his faith, his wife, and finally his daughter-a tragedy drawn directly from De Vries's own life. Despite its foundation in...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by University Of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 1961)
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65th out of 308 books — 250 voters
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Community Reviews

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sckenda
Never doubt the power of uncertainty, even in the darkest moments of life. Author Peter De Vries, having lost his daughter to childhood leukemia, dares to find the humor in the raw material of his own life to describe the fictional life of Don Wanderhope. Don (like De Vries) was reared in Calvinism and through education, reading, sexual awakening, and terrible luck becomes a buffeted and shell-shocked man, quietly resigned to the tragicomedy of life.

Before early middle age, Don has buried his t...more
Greg
This is my new favorite author. Not capital F favorite, like DFW or James Ellroy, but my new, ‘oh my god how could someone this good be so obscure and have almost all of his books be out of print’, good.

Kingsley Amis called him the funniest author on either side of the Atlantic, which is a pretty big compliment, since at the time Amis senior might have wanted to consider himself the holder of that title. And Amis is not wrong, De Vries is funny. There is a bit of the funniness that one would ex...more
John
This is a marvelous read. The mirthful first half, however, fails to balance against the devastatingly heartfelt second half. De Vries's writes so well from his soul it is as if you are inside him and suffer with him.

Fanny Butcher of the Chicago Tribune comments on the back cover are so true: "The last half [of The Blood of the Lamb] is an emotional experience so rare in books, in its sincerity and its tender, almost breathless sharing of an author's heartbeats, that it should not be missed."...more
Elizabeth
I think this is one of those books that would have read better in the era in which is was written. I picked it up on a tangential mention from John Green, who used it as some of his background reading (I think?) for The Fault in Our Stars--or maybe he read it in the course of his theology studies? Either way, I think this book would've been far stronger a read, for me, as a memoir, but can understand as much as I'm able why it was written as fiction, and thus published so shortly after the death...more
Eric_W
Peter DeVries was a very popular writer who contributed many stories to the New Yorker in the fifties and sixties and who wrote several very funny novels. This autobiographical novel describes the growth to maturity of Don Wanderhope, member of a strictly Calvinist Dutch Reform family, whose brother becomes a heretic, whose father becomes addicted to drink and goes insane, and whose wife commits suicide after giving him a child whom he loves deeply. At age eleven, his daughter contracts leukemia...more
Katie
The first half and second halves of this book seem like entirely separate books - it took me a couple of chapters to get in this, printed 1961, with the old book smell and the weird stain and that font that was so popular midcentury that just invites skimming, but I'm glad I gave it the time. This book is gorgeous. It's a semi-autobiographical account of the author's struggles with religion over the course of his life, and it ends up being kind of a defense of the idea that not everything can or...more
Hilary
I found this book in the laundry room of my apt. The cover said something like, "the most well written and most extraordinary book of our time". So i thought, i better read it. It was surprisingly great! It dealt with love, loss and the struggle to believe in God all with a very dry wit and intellectual tone. The story is over such a long period of time that i keep thinking it was 2 or 3 different books, but each season of the main characters life is so amazing to read. I also learned later that...more
Jonathan Hiskes
"What baffles me is the comfort people find in the idea that somebody dealt this mess. Blind and meaningless chance seems to me so much more congenial -- or at least less horrible. Prove to me that there is a God and I will really begin to despair."
Laryn
I enjoyed this book but I will leave the review to James Calvin Schaap.

Excerpt:

I finished Peter De Vries's Blood of the Lamb last night, for the second time. I read it initially sometime in the Sixties, four or five years after it was published, at a time in my life when I loved the irreverence he wields at his tribe--the Dutch Reformed people into which he and I were both born. De Vries mocked us but good, for our silliness and the sometime idiocy of our piety.
...
There is humor in Blood of the
...more
Scott Graham
A number of great American novelists from the 20th Century are disaffected or 'wrestling' Catholics; De Vries wrestles with his Dutch Reformed background. De Vries is frequently compared to Thurber or Mark Twain - he has rare gift of writing with great humor and tragedy, often in the same paragraph.

There were two main things I got out of this short but powerful read. First, 'The Blood of the Lamb' came out in 1961, and it has a 'Mad Men' era feel to the struggles and questions that may have face...more
Gabriel Valjan
"We live this life by a kind of conspiracy of grace: the common assumption, or pretense, that human existence is "good" or "matters" or has "meaning," a glaze of charm or humor by which we conceal from one another and perhaps even ourselves the suspicion that it does not, and our conviction in times of trouble that it is overpriced -- something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Nowhere does this function more than in precisely such a slice of hell as a Children's Pavilion, where the basic truth...more
Kirstie
Aug 27, 2012 Kirstie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those interested in Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s and in religion/philosophy
Recommended to Kirstie by: My mom
This was a book I started to read at the end of the last school year in June and had a really difficult time with because of the very personal nature of the subject matter. (The forward by Jeffrey Frank gets into this quite a bit, speaking about how De Vries was usually known for writing more comedic novels and how this is perhaps the closest he got to autobiography with his own life's tragedies.


But, to be fair, this book is really more balanced than I thought it would be. Most of the book doesn...more
Katherine Snedden
"I now mastered the art of remaining half drunk while having lost the joy of drink. Alcohol and barbiturates between them afforded a few hours of tumbling dreams, like those somersaults of men pictured in space fantasies as floating beyond the gravity of any world, life or death."

"Rage and despair are indeed carried about in the heart, but privately, to be let out on special occasions, like savage dogs for exercise, occasions in solitude when God is cursed, birds stoned from the trees or the pil...more
Sara
Beautifully written but wrenching story told in the first person by a father whose daughter has leukemia. I first read this as an 11 or 12 year old when it appeared in one of the Reader's Digest condensed books collections. The story always stuck in my mind though because it resonated so much with my own life since I read it only a few years after my own younger brother died of leukemia.

When I found the "real" book at the Friends of the Library sale several years ago, I bought it and began readi...more
Laurie
Jun 22, 2014 Laurie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: cbl
This is a beautiful story of life, full of shadows and light. How we deal with and even find humor in pain and suffering and where we stand on the faith spectrum. This is my first De Vries. His writing style flows effortlessly and it's over before it seems possible, but not that terrible style that feels as if the author just quit writing. I look forward to reading more of his books.
Andrew Pessin
this is a stunning book by a stunning writer -- he has total command of language, is hilarious and profound, and capable of great emotional depth -- this is the second de vries novel I've read and I will read more -- the only minor thing I didn't like about this was that towards its very brutal/tragic/sad ending it got a little too explicit in its religious questions for my particular taste -- but everything he says is insightful and profound and challenging ... de vries is a must read for anyon...more
Emily
One of the few absolutely perfect books. Semi-autobiographical, the first half of the book is the narrator's life with his family in Chicago, and his stay in a sanatorium while he is treated for TB. The second half deals with his marriage, his wife's death, and his tender relationship with his daughter (who was based on his actual daughter, Emily). Sad, poignant, and funny, it's a rewarding reading experience.
Ryan
It took awhile for me to get into this book. John Green has said in interviews that this book was his inspiration for the novel "An Imperial Affliction" that Hazel Grace loves to read in "The Fault in Our Stars." The book deals with faith and grief, wrestling with both their contradictions and solutions. This book is by far one of my favorites for its ability to portray human suffering and the will to move on.

My favorite quote from the book sums it up best: "I believe that man must learn to liv...more
Dorene
This book was very well written, with just enough good vocabulary and sentence structure to make me feel like I was reading something important. And I would say that this book is important. Important in a way of showing a man's life and a man's grief excellently through the use of words and well placed humor. I feel that the ending was a bit confusing, because was the ending just a questioning of human emotions? Of how the human soul undergoes grief?
I would also like to say that perhaps the batt...more
Darkoze
How do you laugh and cry on the same page? In the same sentence? Let Mr. DeVries show you how. Not recommended for any father with a young daughter. Wait until she's all grown up and healthy. Otherwise, this book will keep you up most nights.

I've read this book about 10-15 times and each reading is a pleasure and a sorrow.
Jane
After reading this a great long time ago, I told my husband, "This author had to have experienced this first-hand." These were the days before the Internet, so I had to do a little research, and sure enough, I guessed right. It manages to simultaneously amuse, disturb you and ultimately break your heart.
Daryl
Read it 47 years ago and still am touched by the memories.
Aimee
4.5/5 Stars

"Damn." I said to myself after I finished this book.

This Peter De Vries character, whoever he was. Man, could he write.

I, like almost everyone else who's reviewed this book on Goodreads discovered The Blood of the Lamb through John Green. I have no idea where he discovered it, because I'm pretty sure this is the most obscure book I've read in a very long time. Apparently De Vries was a comedic writer in the 50s and 60s, but most of his work is out of print now. The Blood of the Lamb...more
Emily
I picked up this book after I saw it was recommended by John Green. I'm a fan of John Green's writing, so I figured I would also like his recommended books.

I did really like this book, but I didn't love it. I wanted to love it, but I just couldn't. It is an extremely well written novel. De Vries knows how to use words in interesting ways. Sometimes so well that I had to go back and re-read phrases multiple times to make sure that I was fully understanding their meaning. At times funny, at times...more
Anna
[Spoilers] It's not for someone with a short attention span, or who is easily upset or depressed (which is why it took me three days to read it, I kept putting it down,) but The Blood of the Lamb is a beautiful and poetic exploration of the nature of faith, family, life and death, and above all, grief. The first two-thirds of the book recall Don's life as a Dutch Reformed youth of immigrant parents and his falling away from the faith. The book progresses into his adulthood, with his wife's suici...more
Marci
WHY IS THIS BOOK SO OBSCURE?!?!? EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK! WHY IS NO ONE READING THIS BOOK?!?!

I originally heard about this book through a passing mention by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green. Apparently this was either a part of his research or he based An Imperial Affliction off of it or something like that, but I saw it on a list on Goodreads, and that was when I jumped on it.

Never mind the beautiful prose because it does have that, more beautiful than I have seen in any book in...more
Kelly
Sep 08, 2014 Kelly rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kelly by: John Green
De Vries is very witty and keenly aware of the contradictions and absurdities inherent in the human condition. His book asks many interesting questions about life, faith, our relationships with other people, and the ultimate meaning of all these. It sometimes veers a little too much into philosophy at the expense of plot, but for the most part it was interesting to see how these issues were addressed. Also, the first two-thirds or so of the book is pretty funny, if considerably darker than what...more
Alex Rubenstein
Along with The Fault in Our Stars and Norwegian Wood, completes what in my view are the three most poignant and saddest novels I've ever read. Incredible language takes you into the mind of a parent who has suffered more than anyone should ever have to bear with a child who is diagnosed with cancer/leukemia. The rage, the grief, the questioning of faith and God, the belief of man and in medicine, as well as the meaning--or lack thereof--of life, and how we wait to prolong death through the compa...more
Susan Coleman
What started as an entertaining story of the main character's ne'er do well youth turns at a point into a completely different narrative, with a much darker, more solemn tone. It really feels like two books in one - the beginning an amusing romp through childhood with a quirky family of immigrant parents and wise-cracking older brother (even a death early on is handled lightly), followed by post-adolescent entanglements and eventually adulthood. The topic of death comes up over and over again, a...more
Ziqi Wang
This novel was brilliant. It's rare to find an author who conveys age and nuanced emotion in a narrator's voice so naturally, and yet de Vries does just that. Despite being a book laden with death, it's also one bursting at the seams with wit and laughter. The multiple allusions and religious metaphors in this book felt original and thoughtful and far from sentimental--and that was what made this novel honest. De Vries does not wax on and on about death, but if he does, there's bound to be some...more
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Peter De Vries was an American editor and novelist known for his satiric wit. He has been described by the philosopher Daniel Dennett as "probably the funniest writer on religion ever."
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“What baffles me is the comfort people find in the idea that somebody dealt this mess. Blind and meaningless chance seems to me so much more congenial - or at least less horrible. Prove to me that there is a God and I will really begin to despair.” 32 likes
“What people believe is a measure of what they suffer.” 32 likes
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