07 October 2010

Book Banter -- The Son of Laughter

Title: The Son of Laughter
Author: Frederick Buechner
Length: 274 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Where Word Nerd's Copy Came From: Personal collection
Plot Basics: Biblical patriarch Jacob narrates the story of his own life, from his search for approval from his father Isaac (also called Laughter... hence, Son of Laughter), his jealousy and rivalry with his brother Esau and the familiar biblical images of the stone stair, his wrestling with an angel, giving his son Joseph the mutli-colored coat and the promise of deliverance for the nation that he would father when he earned the name of Israel. It is an earthy and salty telling of the story as Jacob has women competing for him, his parenting of his 12 sons and his quest for wealth as he strives to understand (or run from) the power of God.

Banter Points: Buechner makes Genesis chs. 25-40 come alive. A Presbyterian minister, it's clear that Buechner studied the story of Jacob in great detail but then applied his considerable talent as a writer to bring the sometimes-stuffy sounding Old Testament narrative to modern readers in compelling ways. What he brings to the story are Jacob's emotions. They are there in the Biblical account if you read closely, but Buechner makes Jacob's struggle for identity one that many readers will relate to in our postmodern world.

I picked up this book now because at the church I attend, the preaching has been about the life of Jacob this fall. This novel is only adding to the richness of those sermons. (Curious about sermons? Find them here for 9/5, 9/12, 9/19 and 10/3)

Bummer Points: A few years ago, I read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent which focuses on Genesis 34 and the story of Dinah. Diamant extrapolates from the Biblical story what might have been Dinah's side, where Buechner sticks much, much closer to the actual text for the inspiration of his narrative. It's just interesting how two different books can be drawn from the same story.

Word Nerd Recommendation: A phenomenal piece of fiction that brings what could be a dusty, old story to vibrant, relevant colors.

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