Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Pilgrimaging In Prose

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. The book has been remarkable so far in several respects. Elie's style was at first downright frustrating. He tells the stories of four American Catholic writers (Walker Percy, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Flannery O'Connor) in a chronological socio-relational narrative. Dividing the book into chapters based on topics common to these authors and their experience of American Catholicism, he jumps randomly in each chapter from one to another, sometimes back and forth between a pair or three and bringing the fourth in from nowhere, so that there's no pattern or rhythm that would allow one to isolate an individual subject's "strain".

Once I got used to this style, however, the book became rather enjoyable. The subjects are all fascinating people, and Elie's insight is usually rather good, although sometimes he tends to draw conclusions that I would not. At my current place in the story, Merton is about to begin exploring Eastern wisdom, and Elie already seems to be letting him "off the hook" on alot of the shaky conclusions that this exploration brought about. Nonetheless, I recommend the book based on my reading thus far to anyone interest in American letters, or even the average Catholic reader who would like to gain an insight into some contemporary Catholic authors. I will post more on this as I come to the end of the book and can draw some better conclusions. As of now, it still retains the 4 of 5 stars that I rated it on my book list.


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