Monday, February 02, 2009

"All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well" by Tod Wodicka

Why I read it: I read a review of it I think in Salon (though I can't find it now) and thought that any book with such a long title must be worth reading.

This book follows Burt, a man in his sixties whose wife died two years ago of cancer, and whose adult children are estranged. Burt is obsessed with the middle ages, to the point of almost always wearing a tunic rather than "normal" clothes, drinking mead, not driving, etc. He's gone to Germany ostensibly accompanying the Medieval chant group he was forced to join as an "anger management" tool (when he had a DUI charge whilst stealing his lawyer's BMW). Really, he's sold all his possessions and has no intention of going back to upstate New York (where he's been I guess living in the empty bed-and-breakfast his wife owned and ran). His intention is to find his son and make things right.

Tastes Like Chicken: A cross between "Darkmans" by Nicola Barker and "Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen, I think. Darkmans because of the energy, metaphors, and wealth of history on which everything in the story sits, Briar Rose because of the Lemko storyline.

Bookmark: Library receipt.

What I liked: The whole book is littered with flashbacks. Burt is really not rooted in this time, but nor does he actually get to live in his beloved middle ages either. His mother-in-law is not really rooted in the now either. They are very similar characters. While Burt is obsessed with pedantic SCA-type historical accuracy, his mother-in-law is obsessed with bringing back her Lemko culture, trying to get Lemkos a homeland (somewhere around Poland), etc. It's no more reality-based than Burt, and he thinks she's crazy.

The book is divided into three sections.
  • The first section takes Burt from his trip in Germany, on a road trip to Prague, and ends with his first conversation with his son in two years (the section ends on a fabulously horrifying realization).
  • The second section is all flashback to Burt's wife Kitty, and her mother, and when they meet, up until Kitty's death.
  • The third section, which is by far the shortest, has Burt resolve, in his own way, the mess he's made of his relationships with his kids.
Not so much: It was a good thing this book was funny (and I mean laugh-out-loud. If you've ever had a friend who's just joined the SCA, you'll laugh too), because the storyline was relentlessly depressing.

What I Learned: Thinking about it now that the book is done, the story started in the middle. And that worked. I'd like to try editing something I've written so it doesn't start at the beginning, but has more backstory.

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