It’s no secret that Elizabeth Lamar loves Nashville: she loves her extended family here, her beloved Warner Parks, the terrific new retail and restaurants (like The 404!), and the culture of welcoming friendliness she values. No one exemplifies that culture better than Elizabeth, who creates a big, warm circle and invites people in. Despite her gregarious nature, Elizabeth would start the ideal day by herself, unhurried, with a cup of coffee in bed. She’d follow that with a good hike on the Mossy Ridge Trail with dogs Penny and Stella and some friends, watch each of her three boys play in a sporting event, then end the day with a leisurely summer dinner outdoors. Either that, or she might spend the day at the spa. Or head to the river for a day of fly fishing. Who can blame a girl for big dreams?! Call me anytime for that day at the spa, Elizabeth.
Today, she reviews The All of It, by Jeannette Haien.
From Elizabeth: Life at my house can be cluttered and messy, busy when I want it to be slow and slow when I crave some action. Whatever is going on, I like to end the day with at least a few pages of a good book. Novels are are my favorite form of escape. Slightest guilt tugs when I look at the stack of biographies, parenting tomes, newspapers and other more instructive instruments, but what I really want is a great story into which I can sink and even disappear for a while.
Jeannette Haien’s The All of It fits the bill. Ann Patchett rediscovered this beautiful novel in a used book store on vacation, fell in love with it, and brought it back into print. If you have spent much time at Parnassus, it is likely that you have heard of this little jewel. The knowledgeable staff often recommends it, and it frequently sits in a prominent place on their featured books tables.
It is the story of a secret. Set in Ireland, the story focuses on Father Declan, a Catholic Priest who hears the story of a deathbed secret and in hearing it, wrestles with his role as Priest and friend. As Kevin lays dying, Enda, the storyteller, relates the story of her life with Kevin to Father Declan with absolute economy, wasting not a word in its telling. The reader, like Father Declan, is engrossed from start to finish. Father Declan is led by Priestly duty, and something more, to hear the story. He hopes to help Enda and Kevin by allowing them to confess their sin, but in the hearing he is led to examine the nature of sin and truth.
At 145 pages, the book is short and compact, perfectly polished in its wording and description. The language is never flowery, but wonderfully descriptive. By page 25, I was hooked, as anxious to hear the revelation of Enda and Kevin’s secret as Father Declan is sitting by Kevin’s deathbed. Ann Patchett notes in the Forward that The All of It is “exact in what it means to say” and that its “calculated construction” keeps the reader anxious to start the next chapter.
There are no cheap ploys here, nothing shocking or lewd. There is more Masterpiece Theatre than Showtime or HBO in Haien’s novel. It is a small masterpiece that relies on wonderful storytelling to keep the reader engaged from cover to cover. The simplicity of that appeals to me at the end of a messy, cluttered day. Thanks, Ann Patchett, for digging this book out of that dusty bin and bringing it back to its spot on my bedside table.
I really like your writing style Elizabeth. Beautifully concise.
Beautifully written, Elizabeth, and you really capture the tugs of life I constantly feel. Loved your post and will find that book soon!
I read this book years ago (decades ago?), and it’s just as you describe it, Elizabeth. Well-written review!
Elizabeth: I took the bait on this little gem for the same reason: Ann Patchett’s blurb made me want to read it. It was more than worth its price as it tells a slow, gentle and enticing story that invites you in alongside Father Declan in his efforts to discover the real story of Enda and Kevin. Father Declan made this novel for me, and not just because we are both clergy. Reinhold Niebuhr said that there is no such thing as a pure human motive. Father Declan is a faithful servant of God who also reveals that he struggles to live with the mix of motives and urges that dwell in all of our souls. A Rabbi named Edwin Friedman said once that “Secrets are the cholesterol of family life. They block the flow of truth.” I believe he is right, but this book makes me wonder if sometimes they can serve a larger and deeper good. Thanks, Elizabeth, for your reminder of a very good read!