art, Blank Slate Press, blogs, books, Civil War, creativity, Faulkner, fiction, historical fiction, history, human nature, Jim Bencivenga, novels, reviews, This Old World, utopia, war, Yeats
I try to keep my posts on this blog focused on things other than book promotion — that’s really not the point of the blog, which is more focused on offering thoughts and commentary. But once in a while I have to celebrate something about one of my books! And today is one of those days.
Jim Bencivenga, retired book critic for the Christian Science Monitor, recently wrote a review of This Old World that has me simultaneously blushing and making a resolution to work harder on the next book so that it lives up to the expectations it generates. I am grateful beyond words for this review and will do everything in my power to make the next book worthy of this praise.
Here’s the review:
“Since I did not read its predecessor, I came to This Old World, by Steve Wiegenstein, only on the terms inside its covers.
“It is a heart rendering tale in a time of personal and national trauma. Such lasting wounds. Such healed wounds. For Wiegenstein, the war that divided a nation is but background. The hopes and anguish of common people, and more pointedly aspiring women, dominate this book. Utopian hopes, racial hopes, and especially gender hopes play out. The cadenced voice, the agricultural pace of the characters’ colloquial, regional dialog, is the blood flowing through the veins of the narrative.
“The Civil War and the Ozark mountains hold near mythic status in the American experience. Wiegenstein populates these myths with flesh and blood characters literally or psychologically bathed in the blood of battle. Home, family, children – identity – are overwhelmed. He is true to the hymnal inspiration used in the title and which echoes on every page: ‘This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore —If you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.’
“I couldn’t help but connect the psychological and emotional moods of this narrative work with poems by William Butler Yeats. Both Yeats and Wiegenstein embed the worn and known facets of their nation’s pivotal rebellion/war as spiritual heft for the human hearts animating their writing.
“Yeats’s sentiment about humanity’s connection with God in ‘The Circus Animal’s Desertion’: ‘Now that my ladder’s gone, I must lie down where all the ladders start. In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart,’ is where ‘This Old World’ begins. Things indeed fall apart in the widening gyre of the Civil War. And, much more than in Yeats, the women of ‘This Old World’ (one advantage of a novel over a poem or hymn) are given full voice to speak.
“I am convinced Charlotte Turner would more than hold her own should she sit down with Crazy Jane to lecture the Bishop. By voice, example, and especially sincere doubt, Charlotte lectures us throughout. Want to know how common folk from a proto-typical American locale not only ‘survive, but prevail,’ as Faulkner would have it? Read ‘This Old World’.”