Sunday, December 23, 2007

Book Review: Leaping, Brian Doyle

Ways that Brian Doyle has changed my life (I went to three of his presentations when he visited campus last month and just finished Leaping):
a) I've come to realize the gift that artistic inspiration is. He quoted his dad as saying "the difference between writers and non-writers is that writers record the things they think about in the shower or lying in bed." Doyle also introduced half the essays he read with a story something like: "I met this incredible old woman/fireman/baseball playing kid, and they told me this story and after hearing it I shuffled off to my office as fast as I could to get it down." He talked about stories having expiration dates, that you have to write ideas down when they're fresh and interesting in your head. And how true this is. How many times have you had an interesting idea and put off doing anything with it? Soon enough either you forget it or it gets tired and brittle and is worth nothing. So I'm a little better at writing things down. And hope to get even better.
b) He made me a better Christian. Inspired me to be. First through this idea of stories: that people are stories and people want to share their stories and when you're humble enough to really listen you invite connection with people and I'm a huge believer that connection is our most urgent imperative in regards to our fellow man (John 15). Second through his example of a man unashamed of his faith and love. Moved to tears by stories of great sacrifice and of his children. Third, through what he taught me about grace. "God's love is more powerful than your sin hands-down, any day of the week." Why didn't I know this? Why have I been clinging to a wienie and watered-down version of grace hoping that this shadowy whisper of an omnipotent being's love was enough to pull me to salvation? Grace.

Leaping itself is pure gold. And think elven gold a la Tolkien--dancing and shimmering in inexplicable ways. It's a collection of essays on Christ and Grace and Children, but in the way of the best essayists, Doyle approaches inexpressible truths through the mundane and the ordinary. His essays feature summer camp and Bruce Springsteen and altar boys being boys. I regret that my review has taken such an ridiculous tone of the superlative because probably it undercuts my credibility, but the truth is that Doyle is a hilarious, human, and humble man with an eye for detail and a faith that shoots each essay through with a spark of the divine.
He manages it without dwelling in the dark and heavy. A tribute to the dead of 9-11 is somber and thought-provoking without being hopeless or vengeful.

I'd like to compare Leaping with Leap by Terry Tempest Williams for a minute. The two are both non-fiction, both attempts to defining and understanding faith and the way the glory of God works in a fallen world. Granted, their aims and audiences are different, but the fact remains: Williams' memoir is dark and jarring and the redemption at the end is a relief that just only justifies the vale of sorrow that readers have been pulled through. Doyle's short-ish pieces are grounded solidly in the muddy mundane (sorry, I've spent the afternoon reading Maxwell) but the heights of giddy redemption they reach are enough to pull you through dark winter finals weeks. Thoughtful and hilarious and human.

In my experience, when I feel closest to the divine I don't get sobby or somber, I want to dance and sing and laugh. That's the kind of divinity that Doyle captures. ke