Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What I'm Reading - Jane Hamilton's Disobedience

Some years back a relative mailed me a copy of this book, thinking that the content about American Civil War reenacting would be of interest to me. Actually I cringe a bit wondering how my family perceived me during that enthusiasm, and the reenacting content was incidental to my enjoyment of the book. Hamilton is a lovely, graceful writer, able to dig into the mundane details of everyday life and unearth some of our deepest longings, the emotions that we can barely articulate to ourselves.

The narrator, Henry, a teenager on the brink of going to college, by virtue that he is the only one in his family with computer savvy, discovers that his mother is having an affair. This knowledge obsesses him, threatening his sense of his family as a place of refuge and integrity. The title can thus be taken as referring to his mother's disobedience against Henry's rather stern code of who she should be for him and for her family, Henry's disbedience in violating his mother's secrets and walling himself off from her, or to the idea, from the first three lines of Milton's Paradise Lost ("Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste / Brought Death into the World) of the disobedience of human sin which forces us from our Edens. OK, that last thought may be a stretch - I blame those English degrees.

The most haunting character for me was the father, who (of course) at the end we learn knew more about his wife's affair than his son suspected, and who remains faithful to her and to his own idealism and optimism. He may be, as Henry calls him, "the patron saint of cuckolds" but as Henry closes his narration he admits that he stands in awe of a goodness that he can scarcely believe in.

I hope to come back to this author again.

Jane Hamilton's website:

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