These lines felt like a hand on my throat, like a crazed red face pressed to mine demanding an explanation I was not prepared to give. For a week I disappeared into the book, forgetting schoolwork, confusing my friends with questions about atheism. The novel revealed holes in Calvinist theology that I had not encountered in twelve years of religious education. It showed me how little my faith arose from independent thinking, and how much it relied on blind trust in others.
Most of all, it forced me to admit my faith had never been tested by true suffering. Almost nobody spoke of De Vries when I was growing up. Instead, Wanderhope is haunted by a question. John Calvin, the sixteenth-century French theologian who so influenced our little sect, emphasized the vast sovereignty of God compared to the paltry comprehension of humanity. Our fate depends on eternal grace, not on our feeble achievements. Our duty is not to explain the mysteries of existence but to submit to divine wisdom.
At its worst, Calvinism leads to an insufferable self-righteousness.
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This is the sort of arrogance that chafes De Vries, and the sort he mocks so skillfully. Like many an immigrant group, our God-fearing forbears arrived on the South Side determined to preserve the purity of the old ways.
So, no card-playing. No commerce on the Sabbath. No dating outside the community. These devout families spent Sunday morning in worship and returned to church Sunday evening for a second service, with a pot roast dinner filling much of the time in between. The wooden shoes gained a foothold among the larger masses of South Side Irish, Polish, Italians, and African Americans by cornering a lucrative profession: garbage hauling. First in the city, and later the suburbs, they collected trash like sins counted by a watchful God.
And, like sins in the doctrine of total depravity central to Calvinist theology, they knew the supply of trash was inexhaustible. The wealthiest son of Dutch Chicago is Wayne Huizenga, who gathered a hundred family-owned garbage routes and turned them into the empire of Waste Management. His success was a diligent, methodical exercise in consolidation, which seems indicative of our people. I think of the classic Dutch-American meal: roast beef and potatoes.
It lacks the garlicky intensity and fiery chilies of our Italian and Latin neighbors. Sensible food for sensible people living under the gaze of an exacting Father.
The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries - Read Online
By the time I came along, seventy years after De Vries, restrictions guarding against worldliness had softened. The ban on moviegoing was gone, although R-rated titles were off-limits to most of us through high school. Secular music was no longer forbidden entirely, although our parents checked lyrics for dirty words, depriving us of the worldly delights of Nirvana and Green Day. As far as dancing, we took our God-given lack of rhythm as a divine hint to try other pursuits. The singular exception is De Vries. His insistent wit drew the praise of Anthony Burgess and Christopher Hitchens.
He excelled in cataloguing the manners and aggravations of mid-century life.
He has been called the most domestic of American writers, and his fiction is a world of backyards and bowling alleys, cocktail parties and cubicles, promotions and affairs. De Vries dwelled in familiar settings because he wanted to dismantle the belief systems that struck him as too smug or self-sufficient. Religion was his enduring target, but he also mocked modern medicine, psychoanalysis, feminism, academia, and the advertising industry. Light up a Kent. Is there so much sludge in your crankcase you can hear the bearings groan inside it? The executive offers him a job, but the ideas fail to attract clients.
He embarks on a sort of journey of descent, losing his advertising job, losing his wife, failing as a street-cart fruit peddler, and, through a series of plot turns, ending up stranded in a Chicago blizzard with his head stuck in a doggie door and the rest of him exposed to the deadly elements.
De Vries understood that advertisements elicit discontent, not satisfaction. They offer distractions, not solutions. In a telling People Weekly photo, De Vries appears resplendent in tuxedo and black tie, his silver hair combed, his arm draped suavely over a backyard lawnmower. He rose from working-class ethnic roots to achieve New York elegance and suburban affluence, finding all of them ripe for satire. His books contained too many loose morals and R-rated jokes. Where Calvinists are reverent in matters of religion and silent in matters of sex, De Vries was the opposite.
I suppose the truth lies somewhere in between. Like losing a wooden leg in an accident. He is not often anthologized or taught. Since his death in , his name has essentially vanished from the literary landscape. That vanishing, like losing a wooden leg, is not exactly a tragedy.
De Vries targeted the zeitgeist of the post-war era and frequently hit his mark. But that focus now makes many of his books feel dated. Stylistically, he relied on farcical set-ups and signature one-liners. He drew from an impressive bag of comic tricks, but he was at times overeager to use them. His prose carries an impressive rate of gags-per-page, but to modern tastes it can lie heavy on the tongue. The Blood of the Lamb is an exception. The novel begins with an argument in the kitchen of a Dutch-speaking family on the South Side, not far from where I lay reading in my bedroom. Louie tosses off complications to belief that I had never considered.
The story takes you through the streets and churches of Rome and delivers an unexpected ending. No spoilers here. High recommended reading. Jul 24, Lisa rated it it was amazing.
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Or pick all five. This was a terrific fast moving story with the enormous back story of Catholicism and Church hierarchy. It is a technicolor movie of the grandeur of Rome, and the dark, gritty whisper of intrigue and the supernatural. This is what Dan Brown might have written if he had the skill and intellect. And wow, what a surprise at t I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. And wow, what a surprise at the end. Apr 24, Debra rated it really liked it Shelves: first-reads-won.
Blood of the Lamb: A Novel of Secrets Book 1
I really enjoyed this book. I have waived between giving it a 3. I went with the 4 as it was very original and well written.