Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our Heroine is Not a Saint (not that I needed a book to tell me that)

My feelings about Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly are truly mixed. I received a copy through (greatest thing EVAH!) on Monday and finished it last night.

A quick summary: J. Blue, the hero, is a young feller who decides to live his Christianity radically -- a modern day St. Francis of Assisi -- in 1920's Boston. He is not the narrator. The narrator is a successful captain of industry who befriends Blue (and is alternately puzzled and frustrated by him). The narrator recounts various episodes from Blue's life, and one gets the sense that the narrator is hopeful that by describing Blue to us, he will better understand him as well.

Ok, first, I love this idea! I truly am curious: what WOULD St. Francis get up to these days? And I also love this deliberate contrast between the narrator and the hero. We are obviously supposed to identify with our narrator: like him, we are most likely comfortable, worldly and cautious.

So far, so good, right? is when I get my mixed feelings. My big problem? I found Blue to be supremely annoying. Now, at first I just told myself it's a measure of what an old pagan I am that I thought Blue was so vexatious. I reminded myself that people often thought real saints were crazy, because their lives were so radically different from the average. BUT, even granting that, there was something cold and unfeeling about Blue that I've never found in the real saints. And it really ticked me off.

For example, he never asks how the narrator is. This poor narrator is always worrying about Blue, and trying to take care of Blue, and visiting Blue in whatever crazy places he's living. And Blue only ever repays him with blank stares and/or light mockery of his worldliness. This put me in mind of St. Jose Maria Escriva. I've read excerpts of his letters to the faithful, and while he can be very blunt, and at times harsh in his advice, there is no question those letters are full of tenderness and love and humor for each of his little sheep. It's that tenderness and love for the narrator that I don't get from Blue.

I think the problem might be that it's difficult, if not impossible, for a non-saint to create an imaginary saint. I can't even imagine how that level of holiness would manifest itself, but if I were to try, I bet I would imagine something cold and unreal like Blue. And that's the issue at the heart of my feelings for the book: real saints are anything but cold and unreal.

Anyhow, if anyone else has read it, I'd be curious to know your thoughts. Especially if you loved it. What was I missing that you got from the story?

OH! And next up, a murder mystery. The classic, A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell.

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