Archive for the ‘Dark comedy’ Category

Odd Thomas
by Dean Koontz
Bantam Books, 2006


Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz was a joyful find.  Most fiction that can be labeled Catholic is literary, that is fairly highbrow.  Thus it tends to reach a narrow audience, and its influence is slim.  But Dean Koontz is a best selling author of fiction, mostly in the genres of thriller and horror.  Rarely does one find “secular” fiction told from a Catholic worldview.  In Odd Thomas there are a few Catholic trappings — a minor character is a priest, one scene takes place in a church, etc.  But it is the worldview of the story which makes it Catholic.  For instance, evil does exist in the world and there are forces of darkness walking among us — some physical, some spiritual.  Second, sexual relations are sacred and belong in a committed, monogamous (even married!) relationship.  Third, we have all be given by God — even the simplest and weakest of us — a gift with which we must serve Him.  If we do not, we cannot find peace.  Fourth, living is hard work.  We are walking through a valley of tears.  But our reward in heaven — union with those we love — will be great.  Finally, death touches us all, but love endures forever.  Odd Thomas is the first of a series of novels featuring the protagonist Odd (his real first name) whose gift from God is to see the dead (including Elvis).  The dead don’t speak, but they manage to communicate with Odd that they need justice before they can cross over.  Odd, a mere fry cook in a diner, works with the chief of the Pico Mundo Police and the dead and sacrifices everything to protect the living.


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The Moviegoer
by Walker Percy
Knopf, 1961

Some people love Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer and some people hate it. Some find the book a comedy (both in the classical and the modern sense of the term) and some find it full of nihilism and despair. Why do I like it? I like Binx. I like that he struggles against ordinariness in a search for something, some greatness, some significant or dramatic meaning in life. And I like that he rejects his Aunt’s version of greatness. The greatness of monetary and career success, the greatness of being a genius at research or being a “Creole Cato.” Binx eventually finds his greatness in ordinariness. He sees his step-brother’s greatness in ordinariness. He experiences the greatness of the ordinariness of flawed love. This is the spirituality of the 20th century. Our saint is not Teresa of Avila but Therese of Lisieux. The Dark Night of the Soul is beyond our abilities; only The Little Way is within our grasp.

The 20th century is also the age of fracture. The fracturing of society and our sense of self after World War I, after the Crash of 1929, after the dropping of the atom bomb, after the Vietnam War and Free Love. Rather than face our shattered lives, we hide behind a façade of gaiety, glamour, and lots and lots of money. If you like the cable TV series Mad Men, you will probably like The Moviegoer, for though set in New York and New Orleans respectively, they both expose the first cracks in the veneer of one era’s prosperity, sophistication, and complacency.

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Wise Blood
by Flannery O’Connor
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1962

Wise Blood, like most of Flannery O’Connor’s works, is not an easy, comfortable read. O’Connor’s short stories (the most famous of which are “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Good Country People”) are often assigned in high school English classes and introductory college lit courses. The stories are bizarre, grotesquely funny, satirical of almost everything, and appeal to the ironic tastes of late adolescence. They are also full of the symbolism and imagery so dearly loved by English teachers trying to lead class discussions. Wise Blood, while having much in common with its short story cousins, is unlikely to be assigned to the typical high school reading list – particularly in the South. If it was, it would probably be banned faster than Harry Potter meets Holden Caufield. Here the critique of simple minded religion, played out by (fake) evangelical, fundamentalist preachers, is even more evident. The disdain of religion by the major characters is strong. The sex is more prominent. The violence, as usual, is, well, pretty violent. O’Connor called the book a comedy, but it’s not comic in the sense of causing laughter. It’s not a comedy in the Shakespearian sense where all the characters marry at the end. It’s dark, but not darkly funny, like “Good Country People” is. Of course, after one has stepped away from the book, remembering scenes such as the theft a mummified corpse from the museum or a character running through the city dressed in a gorilla suit do seem absurd and bizarrely humorous. Trying to describe what the book is about, particularly to a non-reader, one is faced with the faced with the completely absurd plot line. On the other hand, while reading it, one has a parallel, more serious, experience, of facing the darkest elements of the human condition. Do I recommend Wise Blood? I’m not sure how I feel about it. As I said, it made me uneasy. O’Connor thinks that’s good for us.

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