It’s hard to say exactly why I’m so disappointed with this novel. It may be because there was so much build-up around it, so I came in with very high...moreIt’s hard to say exactly why I’m so disappointed with this novel. It may be because there was so much build-up around it, so I came in with very high (too high) hopes. It won high praise from many critics, and it won several awards. I’ll admit that’s partly why I read the book. I do pay attention to what people are saying. (Heck, it was a National Book Award finalist!) So I came in really wanting to like and enjoy this book.
It started nicely, poetically, a bit oddly muted and muddled. Less than a quarter of the way through I was beginning to feel like there was a bait and switch going on. The characters, the story, the scenes, the writing… I wasn’t connecting. And I really wanted to. Like Mr. Powers, I’m a poet and a novelist, so I know the skills he’s bringing to bear here. I get his writing, his writing style, and I can appreciate it for what he was trying to do.
First, I didn’t connect to the characters (and there are only *three* of them). They read undeveloped to me. I wasn’t feeling who they are, so I wasn’t caring for them very much as they were going through their “story.”
Which brings us to problem number 2: there’s not much story here. We have 11 chapters, alternating in time and space, over 226 pages. It is a short novel. Told in a first person point of view, the narrator wedges in bits of his memories from the fields and odd encounters with the enemy in Iraq and then back to his return and trying to “fit in” in his home town in Virginia. But he feels out of place. And I do, too, as a reader.
Another problem for me was the scenes in the book. The scenes the narrator was describing did not make me feel as if I were there with him experiencing the events in his story. Mr. Powers’ gift with language was his weakness, too, because it felt sometimes like Mr. Powers, the writer, was getting in the way of Private Bartle, the storyteller.
There was some nice writing, sure. But there was a lot of writing that just rambled, for no apparent reason. And sometimes at the strangest moments, so much so that it felt like Powers had to reel himself back in from his own tangents. I have no problem with stream-of-consciousness writing, but the stream should lead somewhere. At other times the language (similes, metaphors, ramblings) Powers uses just gets in the way because of its strangeness. I mean, there was writing I stumbled over--that, really, just stopped the book for me. For example: “Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed” (p. 99). My first thought when I read this was: Huh? I had to re-read it. And not for pleasure. Because my next thought was: Ewww. And using Vonnegut’s “So it goes” (p. 135). I almost set the book aside when I read that because I thought: He really just re-used *that* line? And: “We trickled out into the city like water rung from a mop” (p. 194). What? “from a mop”? Writing should draw me into the novel and make me experience what the characters are experiencing, not make me look up and think: “What the hell?”
There are also some bits that seem really disjointed (as other reviewers have pointed out), as if the text was in need of a good editor: birds flying out of an orchard that’s just been shelled to pieces; a woman standing motionless for hours—hours!—upon hearing of her son’s death; dark night suddenly becoming the dawn.
Finally, for me, the story felt strangely heartless, oddly soulless. I was hoping (intending) to finish the book with a better understanding—a better feeling—of war. A character spent a page describing his experience of war (like the moment suspended before a car accident), but I felt none of that while reading this book. Instead, the book felt rushed and undone, incoherent and incomplete. I wanted to know more because, at the end of it all, at the reveal of the “big, traumatic event,” I felt robbed of knowing. I felt the author owed me more. And I felt cheated out of what should have been a good novel, if not a great novel, about the *experience* of our most modern war.
“Did not like it” 2 stars Amazon 1 star Goodreads(less)
I picked this one up in a supermarket, of all places, just before leaving on a beach holiday. I've known about Bonhoeffer for a long time, just not th...moreI picked this one up in a supermarket, of all places, just before leaving on a beach holiday. I've known about Bonhoeffer for a long time, just not the details of his life. I flipped through some pages of this little book, and the reading level seemed about right for a "serious beach read." It reads to me about middle school level.
I found it to be a nice, quick, not overly complex introduction to the man, his theology, his time, and him struggling to make his way and find his place (and peace) in his time. Excerpts from his letters sent from prison are particularly heart-wrenching because you know how the story ends. The Nazis hang him just a few weeks before the end of World War II.
A camp doctor wrote of witnessing the execution, and confirming Bonhoeffer's death: "In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."