Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Father's Tale

I just finished A Father's Tale, by Michael O'Brien.

This was no small accomplishment; it's over 1,000 pages.  I've been working on it since January!

If you're unfamiliar with Michael O'Brien, he's a Catholic writer who's been around a while--I think this is his 11th book. I remember in the 90's when everyone I knew was reading Father Elijah and loving it. I've only read The Island of the World, his last book before this one, which I loved and reviewed here.

Island of the World was epic, spanning one man's entire lifetime of suffering, loss and search for meaning.  A Father's Tale has a similar broad scope, as a father travels across the globe searching for his wayward son for what turns out to be years. While Island was the story of one man, A Father's Tale is the story of one man whose life intersects with many men in his journeying.  These characters all have stories, and a fair number of them turn out to be priests, either Roman Catholic or Orthodox, and so there is quite a bit of theological discussion between them. This sometimes felt artificial to me; it was as if suddenly the characters were authors of essays in First Things or Touchstone, on their soapbox for a few minutes. But their stories are moving, and those theological nuggets are rich.

I also felt that the plot rambled around a bit, with all the different characters and all the time he spends in various places.  It is a beautiful ramble, full of poetry and symbol, but if you're eager to find out what happens--and there is a lot of tension created by the urgent need to find the son--then you're likely to get impatient.  I think it helps to know in advance that this is going to be a slow journey.  You can tell from the size of the book that it will be a long one, but from the speed of events in the first few chapters, you'll think it's going to be faster-paced.

I don't think this is a book for everyone.  It's a story that requires time and attention, if one is to mine the riches that are there, because there is so much more than plot to this book. I took away many beautiful images, but left many behind, I fear--I just wasn't up to the task of appropriating it all, especially when my time for reading is so short.  But Papa Rooster absolutely loved it.  He rates it right up there with The Brothers Karamazov.

I really appreciated this book, though I would not call it a great read.  It was more than worthwhile, it was enjoyable and a beautiful story, and it will stick with me.

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