4.01.2012

going by Kevin Oderman

People don't loan me books all that often.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps they assume I've already read it.  As though I had exhausted the entire library of the world because I read so much.  Maybe they think I'm this guy:



I've read widely, but a library still makes me swoon from all the books I haven't read and can't possibly read in my life.  In fact, the statistically improbability of you loaning or giving me a book I've already read is pretty staggering.  So, loan me a book, people, because last week I finished reading the 2nd of 2 loaned books on the TBR shelves, and it was good.  Real, real good, in fact. And if you can read that line without thinking of Steel Magnolias, well then somebody needs to loan you that movie.

The book is going by Kevin Oderman, and the loaner was a writer friend of mine who counts Oderman as one of her mentors.  She studied with him at WVU and pressed the book upon me knowing I would love it.  This scenario is always a little concerning because, of course, I might not love it.  And knowing it was written by someone important in her life, I agonized a little over how to break it to her (or lie) if I didn't like it.  Thankfully, I didn't have to reach that point because it was so fine.  Oderman has some serious writerly chops, and the book was thoughtful and weighty while still being plot-driven and decently paced throughout.

The basic premise is that a poet (Cy Jacobs) who is dying of an inoperable brain tumor has escaped his "real" life to live out his days in Granada.  While there, he meets fellow ex-pat painter Madeleine James (known as James).  There's also a young runaway named Asur and a few other characters that become important as the story goes on, and while I want to say the focus of the story is Cy, it somehow is about them all and about life and mortality and what humans can do to and for each other under varying circumstances.  It is written with such a steady, artful hand - just like the painter's - that you fall under its sway quite easily, and though it is almost 300 pages, it is a quick read without being an easy read.

Though it was about them all, I still feel most connected to Cy and his struggle and sacrifice and stalwart humanity despite his illness.  I love this passage:
He did not feel singled out by his disease.  His lot was common.  But the common lot was exacting.  He remembered a gravestone he'd seen back in Pittsburgh, in a cemetery not far from his carriage house.  Just a name and the inscription, "Lived 12 minutes."  He remembered the Cy who had stood over those words, the sudden grief.  He'd tried to understand why the parents had chosen to specify the number of minutes their son had lived.  The parents had wanted to claim, he thought, that even the shortest life was a life. (202-203)
In case you're worried, let me reassure you that this is not a sentimental or sappily sad book.  In fact, I didn't find it sad at all.  Though I'm not ever much of a cry-er, this book didn't even gesture at that for me.  It was just true.  And though sadness is often part of truth, this time it was more about strength than sadness.

So, success here on so many levels.  Another book to mark off the WMaIDWtPATB Challenge list.  A great book.  And a friend who might just loan me another without fear.

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