Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: Keith Heller's MAN'S STORM

Stormy weather, the earworm of the season.  See Wikipedia (link) for some fine annotations; the story of the song also makes a great chapter in Will Friedwald's book, Stardust Melodies.

Nearly every day this week we saw the press stick a microphone in the face of despair, in front of people whose houses had been destroyed, whose possessions had been scattered to the winds.  Some of them spoke sadly about how much they've lost, about how everything they had is gone.

The earworm lingers.  Life is bare.  Gloom and misery everywhere.  Stormy weather.

But then a lot of them say, "We all got out alive and that's what's important."  And we know that's the right attitude to have.  Which brings me to this Friday's Forgotten Book:

Keith Heller's Man's Storm  (1985) is an historical mystery set in London in 1703.  The author draws from Daniel Defoe's descriptions of the storm in epigraphs preceding each chapter, and Defoe is a supporting character himself.  The protagonist, George Man, is the watch, an everyman, pursuing his duties in spite of the storm, driven by  a timeless work ethic and his own sense of decency.

The book is both a mystery and a period piece.  We ask ourselves not only who did the crime, but just how much worse could this historical storm get?  And does the murder still matter when so much death and destruction are everywhere?

But the reader also wonders about the protagonist and the people he meets, about their passions and about how they handle loss.  The epigraph at the front of the novel is a quote from Defoe's contemporary, Richard Steele, speaking of emotional storms:

"One would think the hectoring, the storming, the sullen, and all the different species and subordinations of the angry should be cured by knowing they live only as pardoned men, and how pityful is the condition of being only suffered?"

Which reminds me again of the quote from Cormac McCarthy's The Road:  "Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."  Which resonates to a quote from Marcus Aurielius, saying that a man ought to live his life as if borrowed, and that he ought to be prepared at any time to give it back, saying--here, I thank you for this life which I have had in my possession.

Why can't we always be thankful like that, why can't we maintain a constant attitude of gratitude?  Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky, Lena Horne says in her opening line.

She doesn't seem to know either.

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