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Original Essays | September 4, 2014

Edward E. Baptist: IMG The Two Bodies of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

My new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, is the story of two bodies. The first body was the new... Continue »
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Rachel King has commented on (4) products.

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

Rachel King, June 11, 2013

I would recommended this book for people who have faith and/or struggle with faith, but specifically to those who struggle with faith and are well read in the spiritual classics and literature, or to those who struggle with faith and have a graduate degree in literature. I am continually immersed in literature and take visits to "contemporary Christianity." I rely on many of the authors Christian Wiman references to bridge the gap between the two: Simone Weil, Augustine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, W.H. Auden, to name a few. In many ways, these writers and their insights are timeless, but sometimes I wish for such kinds of meditations from a contemporary. Christian Wiman has given that to me. He talks about the inescapable absence of God like a modern and the necessity of the humanity of God like a believer. He comes back to his life, his art, and the self repeatedly, but recognizes that it is through Christ, not the self, that the world and experience makes sense. And he writes prose with the intensely beautiful precision that few but poets can master. I will place this book next to the above writers and return to it, again and again.
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Elegies for the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen
Elegies for the Brokenhearted

Rachel King, September 4, 2012

Next to the narrator's passionate and genuine nature, what I found most interesting about this novel was the structure. Five chapters, in the second person, each one addressed to a person who has deeply affected Mary's life in one way or another. It's a kind of rotating second person, a point of view I've never read in any other story or novel. It more than works, it's integral; I couldn't think of any other way to hear this story. Mary's hearfelt and resigned voice becomes stuck in my head as she describes the flawed people she has learned to love, because, more often than not, they were simply there. "This was life. This was the lesson we kept learning over and over and over, the lesson our mother was best capable of teaching us. Love, whatever else it might or might not be, was fleeting. Love stormed into your life and occupied it, it took over every corner of your soul, made itself comfortable, made itself wanted, then treasured, then necessary, love did all of this and then it did next the only thing it had left to do, it retreated, it vanished, it left no trace of itself. Love was horrifying." This love isn't, as is the preoccupation of many fiction writers, between significant others, but between an uncle and a niece, classmates, roommates, co-workers, and a mother and a daughter. This exploration of different kinds of relationships was refreshing. If you like Mary Gaitskill's work, you'll probably like this novel, because, like Gaitskill, Hodgen takes you into the darkness adjacent to love, but she does so with such restrained compassion and realism that you'll want to spend more time there.
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The Recognitions (American Literature) by William Gaddis
The Recognitions (American Literature)

Rachel King, September 3, 2012

This challenging and rewarding masterpiece follows the lives of three artists: Wyatt, Otto, and Stanley; a painter, a writer, and a musician, respectively. Although Wyatt is the primary character, the book ends on a statement regarding Stanley's work: "... it is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played." (A statement an earlier reviewer rightly applies to this book.) If you are an artist who enjoys expansive novels or a non-artist who has studied art and enjoys expansive novels, you will like this book. The allusions can be overly erudite, but, most of the time, they seem intended to illuminate the characters or the themes, not to show off Gaddis’s knowledge. The main theme is authenticity: how do you know what is authentic, is it possible to create something authentic or to have authentic relationships? Instead of coming at this theme and others primarily through language or structural techniques, like some moderns and postmoderns, Gaddis comes at it through the lives of his characters. In many places it’s just good storytelling, at once funny and heartbreaking and disturbing. And besides creating masterful, interweaving plots and varied, interesting characters, Gaddis consistently writes beautiful and insightful sentences on every page for almost 1000 pages. A few of the more poetic: “The great misfortune of the sun, it has no history.” “It’s only the living it through that redeems it.” “Change a line without touching it.” “The sky, it has been noted, is a safe distance away.” “Everything moves, and even falling, soars in atonement.” “Every work of art is a work of perfect necessity.” “Everyone today is conscious of being looked at by someone else but not by God.” “I wonder, when I step out of doors, how the past can tolerate us.” I am afraid of stating more specific scenes, plots, characters, etc., because I may leave something important out. I understand why this novel wasn’t and isn’t a mainstream hit, but more literature lovers should read it.
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The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
The Bird Artist

Rachel King, August 31, 2012

I just finished rereading this book for the third time. I love it. The pacing is suitably crisp, the isolated and beautiful setting well evoked, the characters nuanced and strange, the sentences immaculate, the dialogue quirky yet realistic, and a definite literary-ness doesn't suppress the well-imagined plot. And, what's more, many of these qualities are evident in the first paragraph:

"My name is Fabian Vas. I live in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. You would not have heard of me. Obscurity is not necessarily failure, though; I am a bird artist, and have more or less mad a living at it. Yet I murdered the lighthouse keeper, Botho August, and that is an equal part of how I think of myself."

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