“It’s a brick!” my friendly land-lord said to me today when he saw the book I was reading outside on the steps. His wife joined us: “I can see that you like to read!”
Yes, I said. I’m always reading.
Usually I have several going simultaneously, but recently when I was reading Michael O’Brien’s books, nothing else could distract me. I finished Strangers and Sojourners today, and my next books are going to be Michner’s autobiography, also a brick, and The Wheel on the School which is so delightful I wish I could read it aloud to someone.
If you want rich, deep, human stories, run–don’t walk–to your nearest book source to find Sophia House and Strangers and Soujourners. They hardly deserve the flippant name of ‘novels’ because they’re so deep and accurately portray the psyche of intensely human characters. There is nothing cheesy or schmaltzy here.
Beyond the rich stories, I enjoyed the incredibly crafted sentences. Some were so delicious I had to re-read them and give them the attention they deserved. O’Brien makes every word count, weighting the phrases with stark, earthy, pungent nouns and verbs.
Sophia House is set in Warsaw during WWII. The tone of the book reminded me very much of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev. They share the same kind of heaviness, darkness, and intensity. The flyleaf says “This is a novel about small choices that shift the balance of the world.”
I connected most with Strangers and Sojourners maybe because the main character is a woman, though I think the real hero was her Irish husband. The story follows Anne’s emigration from England to Canada, and her constant pursuit of home and identity. It’s a long story, and characters reappear in unexpected places, as well as ideas and words, ingeniously giving significance to each of the saga’s details.
I like how Anne and Stephen, the main characters, are often referred to as ‘the man’ or ‘the woman.’ It makes them seem plain and ordinary. The entire story is quite serious and sober, but I laughed toward the end of the book when I met the eccentric genius writer, Fran. I like when a writer writes about another writer, and O’Brien does it brilliantly several times in these books.
I’ve seen that sometimes novelists use dreams to reveal how their character changes, and I don’t know how to write a novel, but it seems to me that this method is a kind of cheap, easy way for the character to learn something that will influence him. Bring in the surreal, and anything can happen, and you can manipulate any character to think what you need him to think. O’Brien does this frequently in both books, but I forgive him for it because the rest of his writing more than makes up for it.
The stories search out the deep truths of peace, forgiveness, love, redemption, and what is really real. If you’re up to reading some bricks, you’ll like these.
In the next few days, I plan to post some particularly meaningful, powerful paragraphs and dialogues, because they’re too good to keep to myself.