Wednesday, September 05, 2007

October by Richard B. Wright

I've never read Richard B. Wright before, somehow missing the whole Clara Callan hullabaloo, but last week my friend, the much astute Rebecca Rosenblum, described him to me as a "journeyman". And upon finishing Wright's latest novel October I understand what she means. For there is a solidity evident throughout October, an assurance that all its parts are assembled and functioning as they're supposed to be, and yet the success of the project is understated. It runs so quietly you can't even hear the hum. And yet hum it does, weaving two different narratives together seamlessly, grappling with complexities, alluding to great literary works, and, with references to modern and popular culture, managing to be so much of this world.

As with most great novels, what this book is about is not the point of it, but I will recount the story nonetheless. James Hillyer, a widower in his seventies, is suddenly summoned to England upon receiving the news that his daughter who lives there has terminal cancer-- the same kind to which he'd lost his wife years before. Whilst in England James has a chance encounter with Gabriel Fontaine who he has not seen for sixty years, not since a pivotal summer when they were friends and both loved the same girl. And from this point chapters alternate between James's memories of that summer, and his experiences in the modern day when, still adrift by the news of his daughter's illness, he accompanies Gabriel on a most unusual trip to Zurich.

The solidity is James Hillyer's calm and even tone, and yet the hum is there-- that these disjunct pieces of his life come together to mean something much greater. Further, that this story asks questions, and then dares not to answer: "But what if many things we encounter have no answers? What if they just remain unsolved mysteries?" And so they do remain, but as readers we still come away satisfied. October is more to be pondered than digested, and, I expect, also to be revisited from time to time.