"Five friends I had, and two of them snakes."
So begins Frederick Buechner's novel, Godric. Isn't that a great first sentence?
The novel retells the life of the 11th century saint, Godric of Finchale. It is at once earthy (and I use the word in all its euphemistic glory) and heavenly, both in what is told and how it is told. Buechner's prose is so akin to poetry I had to stop a few times and re-read, certain that the lines I had read rhymed. But no, this prose/poetry does not rely on rhyming. Its lyrical quality comes from sentence construction, word choice, and well-placed figures of speech.
A sound-bite is not sufficient to prove this point, but a few sentences are so good they are worth putting here:
"What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, next to life, would scarcely fill a cup."
"As a man dies many times before he's dead, so does he wend from birth to birth until, by grace, he comes alive at last."
"What's prayer? It's shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who's to say? It's reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish in the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will. Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail. Else waves would dash him on the rocks, or he would drift with witless tides. And sometimes, by God's grace, a prayer is heard."
Godric's faith is rooted in 11th century Christianity but entirely modern, or rather it transcends time and place; it is timely in any century. I'm not saying that I would agree with all of Godric's (or Buechner's) theology, but I recognize a like faith and a faith from which I can learn better how to love and serve the same God. One may be spiritually sound without being entirely theologically sound but let's not throw the baby out with the baptismal font.
So, I commend to you Godric, both for its literary as well as its spiritual merit. I would not, as another reviewer claimed, mark my life before Godric and after Godric, but I would have to say that it holds a unique place in my understanding of literature and writing and what makes for "good" writing. Godric, both the novel and the main character, is unforgettable.
(I do extend the caveat that, as with all literature, one must read with discernment and wisdom. Godric lived quite a secular life before taking up his holy life and never did clean up his language entirely.)