Tag Archives: N.D. Wilson

Book Review: Boys of Blur

18209370“When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame…”

Every now and again you get your hands on a book that feels older than it really is.  The pages are appley crisp, the publishing date not long past, but you’d swear there’s an old soul humming inside the polished dust jacket. I felt that way about N.D. Wilson’s first novel, Leepike Ridge, and I feel that way about his latest, Boys of Blur.

It takes a special kind of nerve to mix football, Beowulf, panthers, and grave-robbing into any kind of coherent narrative, let alone one with emotional tonnage, but NDW – like his father, never lacking in the Chutzpah Dept. – does both in Boys of Blur. It’s a parable and a romp. I do wish the Gren were allotted more “screen time”, and a few of the plot points could’ve used more time in the oven. Despite these faults, I liked the story enormously, and it grows on me even now, a week after finishing it. There’s something Wilson has always had going for him: staying power.

His writing, too. There are scenes rendered with such magic and perfection – boys gone rabbit-hunting through fiery cane fields, Charlie chasing a panther across a crowded football stadium – that they seem immediately aged, enduring as Tom Sawyer and whitewashing and fences.

I mentioned Beowulf. Wilson tips his helm more than once to that ancient saga, especially near the end. Boy, was that delicious.  “Thanks to my pops,” Wilson writes in the acknowledgements, “for first introducing me to Beowulf and the growling rhythms of Anglo-Saxon, and for his own brilliant verse rendering.”

I’ll drink to that. Pass the mead.

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Seeds and Rot

“Your father made mistakes. We all do. But instead of working to set things right, he chose to protect those mistakes – he let them be. He even fed them, which made them so much worse. Mistakes don’t just hang on the wall like ugly pictures. Mistakes are seeds.” He thumped his chest. “In here. They grow. They take over. You make a mistake, you gotta make it right. Dig that seed out. Old Wiz used to say, ‘Fruit rots, wood rots, but lazy-ass boys rot the fastest.”

– N.D. Wilson, Boys of Blur (pp. 50-51)

Anything Worth Doing…

Lord Chesterfield once observed that “whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And to this day, whenever I hear someone repeat that, I feel driven to respond with G.K. Chesterton:  “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

These are not contradictory statements. They are complementary. But in our efforts to achieve the one, I fear we frequently, and all too deliberately, overlook the other. It’s rather nice to think about something done well. Reflecting on the messy bits beforehand only gives us a headache.

“So pass the aspirin and the beer like a dear chap, won’t you?”

Writers are often guilty of this, especially young writers (and I speak as one of these). Sure, we talk a good game, all about getting our names out there and writing the Next Big Thing. We intend to make a splash. Only instead of picking up the stones and letting fly, we stand slack-jawed on the river bank with our hands in our pockets.

“Not yet,” we say, “not yet. One day, certainly. Just not today.”

So that novel remains unwritten and those notebooks gather dust and ambition is swept under Tomorrow’s rug. We want to spill ink like Bradbury and carve words like Faulkner, but we’re not willing to make fools out of ourselves to get there. We’re not willing to do badly so we can do well.

N.D. Wilson describes this attitude in Death by Living:

My work (entering middle school) clearly did not measure up to the work of C.S. Lewis (or Tolkien). And so I walked away from it, sagely planning to come back to writing later, when my writing would be better (without practice).

Yes. Well. Put it that way and it sounds rather silly, doesn’t it?

Pick up the stones and start throwing. We must write, even when it makes our eyes bleed and our stomachs quiver and our toes curl in revulsion. A lot of it will be dreadful. None of it will be wasted. It’s how we learn. We jump off this cliff and figure out the flying part on the way down.

Chesterfield: “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

They say variety is the spice of life. I say paradox is.

Physical

“Assumption Two: God only cares about spiritual things. To be honest, I don’t even know what this means, but those elusive spiritual things have been helping Christians cop out of true holiness for centuries. We are all like accountants with wizard-like abilities, funneling our choices and goals and actions through shell corporations and off-shore banks of unrighteousness. God only cares about spiritual things? His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom? Are you kidding me? God only cares how we emote at Him? That’s part of it, sure, but I was pretty sure that He made physical animals and a physical man and gave him a physical job. I was pretty sure that He made a physical tree with physical fruit and told that physical man not to physically eat it or he would physically die. He physically ate it anyway and now we physically go into the physical ground, physically rot, and become physical plant and physical worm food. And because of this incredibly physical problem, He made things even more clear when His own Son took on physical flesh to lead a physical life that lead to a physical cross where He physically absorbed our curse, was physically tortured, and bought you and bought me and bought this whole physical world with His physical blood. If He’d wanted a spiritual kingdom, He could have saved Himself a huge amount of trouble (to say nothing of making the Greek philosophers and medieval gnostics a lot happier), by just skipping Christmas and the Crucifixion.

When men have an urge to physically do something they shouldn’t, God suddenly has primary jurisdiction over ‘spiritual’ things, which, when one really takes a thorough academic look at the question, means something foggy about our fellow man.

When the younger set would like to go along with a godless (but inevitably self-righteous) crowd, they encounter certain physical requirements. Welcome to dietary indignation, resentment of private property, the anathema of soda, and pious affirmations of a woman’s right to kill (so long as she isn’t killing polar bears with unholy diesel). Luckily – wipe brow here – God doesn’t care about any of those things. Close one, right? I know. Phew.

Ink your skin and pierce your nipples. Get yourself a steady IV drip of guiltless self-affirmation. Serve dark urges and call them lovely. Demand that others feed the poor. After all, one can be a member of a spiritual kingdom and a totally different physical kingdom without any conflict of interest.

But whenever your physical urges fail you, when death and pain arrive, discover the problem of evil and wield it widely. How could God allow you to feel physical hurt and physical pain?

Shrug. His is a spiritual kingdom, isn’t it?”

– N.D. Wilson, Death by Living (pp. 75-77)

Book Review: Death by Living

Death By Living_Book Cover_High ResolutionIn the opening pages of Death by Living, N.D. Wilson warns us that “for me, meditation is a noisy, noisy business. There’s a chance of hard cider, and a likelihood of shouting.”

Yeah. I knew I liked this guy.

Pass the cider, my brothers, and listen up. Life is a story, but between the knowing and the living lies a chasm that has swallowed many a man whole. “My life is a story,” says the latte-swigging hipster, and he doesn’t understand how right he really is. Do you? Do I? Or do we merely pass this idea around “like a cigarette between furtive fourteen-year-olds, the smoke puffing in and out like empty speech”?

Somewhere there is a disconnect – God help us, such a disconnect – and Wilson is ready with the much-needed rebuke: “If you think it, live it. If you don’t live it, you don’t really think it. You are not what you think (or what you think you think). You are not what you say you are. You are what you do.”

So we say it again: Life is a story. Yes. We know this. Now let us live like we know it.

The story spins on – every day, every hour, every minute. We can clutch, we can grab, we can try to horde the moments that slip through our fingers like water; or we can open our hands and give, give till there is nothing left, let ourselves be poured out by others and for others. Our days on this mortal coil are numbered. The only question is: will we live fully and deeply, the way God intended us to live, or will we not?

Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.

In trying to review a book as beautiful and as brilliant as this, I have a deathly fear of saying the wrong thing; of failing to get even a smidgen of the book’s wonder across to you fairly; of sounding like a nut who can’t be taken too bloody seriously. Therefore: if what I’ve written moves you in any way to go out and buy this book, I will feel that I’ve succeeded.

If not, forget this review completely.

And buy the book anyway.

Oh, one more thing. Eric Metaxes has said that N.D. Wilson reminds him of a young Chesterton. Higher or more accurate praise could hardly be given, I think. And that brings me to what I love best in Wilson’s writing: the joy. His prose is saturated with it, just like Chesterton’s. This joy isn’t the naive optimism of a happiness guru, but the deep, glorious, soul-bursting exultation that finds its roots in the cry of Job: I know that my Redeemer liveth. This is the joy that comes from knowing the Storyteller. This is the joy that comes from knowing how the Story ends.