No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, September 03, 2007

#49: A Rhinestone Button -- Gail Anderson-Dargatz

A crow flew up from a fence post as they passed. The first crow Job had seen that year. His mother had always said that you should look to the first crow of the season to tell you what your year would be like. If you saw a crow resting, then you could look forward to a relaxing year. A crow flying in the air made for a busy time. A crow coming in for a landing meant things would slow down after a busy start. Job couldn't remember what a crow taking off meant.
Job, pretty as a Botticelli angel and innocent as a lifetime of church-going and strict parenting can make a grown man, is a farmer in Godsfinger, a small town in Alberta. The town's named because it lost its church to a tornado, then lost the new church to another. And religion is a force as strong, here, as the round of seasons or the community itself. Job, farming alone after his parents' death and his brother's departure to theological college, is content with the neatness of his life: he bakes as well as any of the women in town, and there's always work to be done on the farm.

But Job is different, and not just because of his looks. He sees sounds; his is a world rich in synaethesia (the rounded glass egg of a vacuum-cleaner's hum, the tawny rose blushes of chickadee wings) and only gradually does it become apparent that there is a great deal missing from Job's neat, 'tightly-coiled' life. This revelation, vouchsafed to the reader well before Job realises it himself, is spurred by the arrival of Job's brother Jacob, his wife Lilith and their son Ben, fleeing minor scandal and the loss of Jacob's position as pastor. Job's childhood friend Will is exposed as gay, and Job is found guilty by association. Under his brother's influence, Job becomes caught up by the evangelical drive of preacher Jack Divine, and tries to reconcile his own wordless, shaky faith and his search for something missing with the religious certainty (and its undercurrent of casual, quotidian misbehaviour) that he sees in others.

Job's life is complicated by each social interaction. There's the waitress at the cafe, Liv, who wears 'broomstick' skirts and mocks his faith; Jacob's lack of interest in the realities of farming life, and his denouncement of crop circles as the work of demons; Lilith and Ben, both with demons of their own; Debbie, the girl from a radio dating show who finds her soulmate between the door of the cafe and Job's table ... Temptations on every side and nothing solid, safe or certain.

And throughout the novel there are ducks; a tame duck wearing a diaper, a duck falling dead out of the sky into Job's arms, a duck flying into a tornado ...

A Rhinestone Button is full of the imagery of rural life, and it contains one of the most compelling descriptions of a tornado that I've ever read, the air pulling out of a man's lungs, the noise like a freight train, the upward spiral of blossom.

The quiet desperation of Job's life looked like peace to me at first, but I was drawn into the claustrophobia of small-town life. And it's a tale that ends happily, or more happily than it might have done, though to my mind there's as much loss as gain.

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