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The Storm (1998)
I'm not sure how I'd missed out on reading Frederick Buechner before, but Aaron Kishbaugh recommended him and I liked at least this book very much. In addition to being the author of over 30 books, Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and his writing is suffused with a kind of quiet religiosity. The characters seem to be searching for moral guidance and inner peace. They approach the world prepared for the miraculous to occur and, open to the possibility, they tend to perceive such miracles in the circumstances of every day life.
The central character in this story is Kenzie Maxwell, who like Buechner is an author in later life. Twenty years earlier, at a time when he sensed an emptiness in his life, he began attending church and volunteering in the community. While working in a shelter for runaways (on whose Board his attorney brother served), Kenzie fell in love with a graffiti-tagging teenage girl named Kia. Unbeknownst to him, Kia died giving birth to their child in her tenement apartment. But when Kia's grandmother approached the shelter for help with the child, scandal exploded. Kenzie and his brother Dalton became estranged and Kenzie has spent the intervening years seeking absolution and providing for the care and raising of Bree, his daughter with Kia, who has become a professional dancer. Now he lives on an island with his wealthy wife Willow and, among other things, continues to attend church, volunteers with the elderly and works on writing a combination journal/apology to Kia. Therein, he describes his current life:
I will continue to do penance, that's what I will
do. I will continue to live off of my wife's money.
As the passage demonstrates, he has accepted the harsh societal judgment about his relationship with Kia, even though the book makes it clear that they shared a mutual and nonexploitative love. Moreover, the daughter that they produced holds a special place in Kenzie's heart. One night in bed Willow asked him if he believed in miracles:
...his answer, mumbled drowsily through his mustache, was, 'Bree is a miracle.'
He reached out one arm to turn off the light and
then , lying there on his back with his eyes open,
The plot of the book centers around the gathering of Kenzie's pretty non-nuclear family on the island for his 70th birthday. Even his estranged brother arrives, having been invited down by the bitter old woman who owns and developed the island and resents Kenzie for the whiff of scandal he carries. Each of the characters has his or her own burdens to bear, although each seems to also be a fundamentally good person whose worst critic is him or her self. As they all come together a huge sudden and viscious storm blows up (the whole novel is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest) and leaves in its wake a group of people who are much changed from when first we met them.
In a world where so many people care so little about morality in general and the quality of their own actions in specific, the denizens of Buechner's world are heartsick at the thought that their behavior does not measure up to the standards they believe in. At times we long for them to ease up on themselves a little, but at the same time, it may be precisely this type of self-judgment and regulation that makes them such essentially decent people.
Their decency, their idiosyncrasies and the beauty of Buechner's storytelling make this a delightful novel.
-Frederick Buechner Page
-The church of holy love, inc.com: an unofficial site, dedicated to exploring the literature of Frederick Buechner
-BIO: (Collections concerning Religious and Social Issues currently available in the Wheaton College Special Collections)
-PROFILE: The Reverend of Oz (Part 1) At 70, Frederick Buechner looks back on his ministry in letters (Philip Yancey, Books and Culture)
-ESSAY: Jesus Who Was and Who Is (Frederick Buechner, Living Pulpit)
-ESSAY: Preaching on Hope (Frederick Buechner, Living Pulpit)
-ESSAY: Listening to Your Life: Five days of meditations (Frederick Buechner, Spirituality & Health)
-ARTICLE: A Faith to Life and Die With: The stories and words of Frederick Buechner (W. Dale Brown, Sojourners Magazine)
-REVIEW: THE STORM By Frederick Buechner (Ruth Coughlin, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: Books: Bigtime Christian fiction (World Magazine)
-REVIEW: of ON THE ROAD WITH THE ARCHANGEL By Frederick Buechner (Alfred Corn, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of THE SON OF LAUGHTER By Frederick Buechner (Lore Dickstein, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of BRENDAN By Frederick Buechner (Julia O'Faolain, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of THE SACRED JOURNEY By Frederick Buechner (Reynolds Price, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: Thomas R. Edwards: People in Trouble
The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton
Open Heart by Frederick Buechner
Enemies, A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer