Thursday, April 28, 2005

A chapter in Joy Comes in the Morning prompted me to bring Matthew Sharpe's The Sleeping Father home from the library last night so I could compare a scene from both.

I'd firmed my conviction to read Joy based on an early glimpse of Henry, an elderly man planning to kill himself, who "retained a good head for the words of others even as his own words, particularly after the last stroke, sometimes eluded him." Later in the novel, his suicide attempt prevented by another stroke, Henry manages to distance himself from the humiliation of having Lev, his grown son, change his diaper by reciting the Gettysburg Address, while Lev wonders what the prayer is that his father is muttering.

I flashed back to a similar situation in The Sleeping Father. Bernard Schwartz has also suffered a stroke, his brought on by a pharmacist's error, and is experiencing aphasia as well. His teenage son Chris visits him in the rehab center and reads—and explains in his off-kilter way—William Butler Yeats' "Leda and the Swan." The scene itself really isn't comparable to Rosen's since Sharpe proceeds with great black humor to juxtapose Bernie's doctor reading him "The Second Coming" with Chris's, ah, tryst with a speech pathologist in her office down the hall. Rosen uses his scene to lead to Lev's realization that God, "however much He might or might not exist, played no role whatsoever in human affairs." Lev's rabbi girlfriend Deborah, who is actually the novel's main character, will experience her own dark night of the soul beginning in the very next chapter.

Since all but one of the people Rosen thanks on the acknowlegments page are women you'd think someone would have told him to watch for overkill in the tears department. He must have assumed the psalm saying "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning" gave him tacit permission for an otherwise strong character to spend much of her time in tears. I don't know that I've encountered such a crier in literary fiction since Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss. Interestingly enough, Rosen, whose own wife is a rabbi, says he was affected by Dinah, the charismatic Methodist from Adam Bede, in his portrayal of Deborah (Nextbook). Since I've yet to read Adam Bede, I don't know if Dinah weeps profusely as well.

A hundred or so pages to go. It's definitely worth reading despite my quibbles with Shifting Perspective and Characters Who Cry Too Much.

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