There are NO SPOILERS in this review. Enjoy! (:
Unfortunately, I do not have an interesting story to tell of how I came across Peter De Vries' The Blood of the Lamb. It was a novel that I heard of often. It's one of those titles that floated around in my mind. I finally put it down on my 2013 Reading List to motivate and remind myself to finally read it.
As usual, here is the back-cover description:
"The most poignant of all De Vries's novels, The Blood of the Lamb is also the most autobiographical. It traces the life of Don Wanderhope, reared in a strict Dutch Reformed home in Chicago, and follows him through family tragedy, love affairs, and finally, his daughter's terrible illness. In a narrative that is by turns wildly comic and deeply moving, De Vries writes with a powerful blend of grief, love, wit, and rage."
The more reviews I begin to write, the more I notice a pattern in said reviews. I tend to cover plot, characters, and writing style separately, with a few additions specific to certain books. So, with this review, I will do the same, adding a section for overall reaction, and whatever else I deem appropriate.
Overall reaction (in which I end up talking about writing style as well):
I was very affected by De Vries's novel. I think the man touched on a level of emotional grief that I haven't seen often. Though this inevitably leads to me the subject of style, I think De Vries is incredibly successful at achieving such a level of authentic grief due to his superb writing of wrought emotions. He writes with such elegant fluidity that he forced me to read as a writer. I was envious of his talent. I picked one of my favorite passages from the entire novel in which the narrator, Don Wanderhope speaks of his ill daughter:
"She fell asleep, and as we pounded on through the continental night I tried to banish from my mind all thoughts but the single one: She will go back to school. She would push her bicycle up the long hill leading to it as usual, in order that she might coast down all the way home. Her hair would stream out behind her in a cloud of gold, and her legs would be outthrust above the whirling pedals, till the momentum had squandered itself against the upgrade leading into our drive, in which she would come to a perfectly timed stop just before the front door. I held this picture like a hoard of treasure as, breathing her fragrance about me, she turned over in my arm, jostling a few notes from a musical bear without which she would not think of going to bed. What had Cardinal Newman written in that loveliest of hymns? 'I do not ask to see the distance scene; one step enough for me.'"
(I had an English teacher that once told me [me, as in the entire class, and not me individually] that when you quote large paragraphs, people tend to skip them. So if you skipped the quoted section above, I urge you go back and read it.)
One last note on style. Though I do emphasize how well De Vries's captures grief, he isn't without his humor. I've heard that he has pieces much more humorous than this one and will definitely go on the search for them.
You get a large sense of the plot through the back-cover description I included above. I found my favorites parts of the novel to be the first several chapters, and the last half of the novel. That's definitely not to say that he earlier half was bad, because it wasn't at all. I just think that somewhere at that halfway point, De Vries's hits this level of heart-wrenching emotion that I almost couldn't put the book down. We all have our favorite sections of novels and for me, it was definitely the latter half.
I don't have too much to say about characters when it comes to this novel, except that there is quite a memorable bunch. Similarly to how the latter half of the book was my favorite, I also grew to like the protagonist more and more in that section. I think the first person POV made all his interactions with other characters not only humorous and entertaining, but insightful. Don's father was also quite a unique, yet frightening at times, character as well. The overall bunch was lively and dynamic.
I wanted to insert a small excerpt to demonstrate how fond I am of De Vries's methods of characterization:
"For a long time my father had insomnia, and so was let sleep till all hours. 'Shh' was the first word I learned, and as an injunction aimed at me, not at others on my infant behalf, and walking on tiptoe was my first conception of human locomotion, gained through the slats of my crib."
I just love that bit of characterization. Nicely done!
I think that mostly sums it up for this review. I definitely recommend this book to everyone. I think it speaks to such a fundamental level of humanity, as well as stretching to higher levels of experienced tragedy, that all readers can learn to appreciate it.
Thanks for reading!