40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
A Great Gem in Catholic Literary Scholarship,
This review is from: The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage (Hardcover)
The title of Paul Elie's book THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN is borrowed from a short story title of Flannery O'Connor, one of the four writers discussed in his book. The other three are Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy. The focus of Elie's work is not as much biographical as it is literary. He looks at the two things that connect these four great people: faith and writing, and shows how both work together to produce the great literary output of each author. Elie sees these four people as being part of an informal "Catholic" school of writers. Elie looks at an analyzes many of the writings of each author, and presents it in a manner that will appeal to the scholar and lay reader as well. Though the book has biographical information, and is arranged in a chronological manner, biographical and historical details are only provided where absolutely necessary to discuss the literary works of Day, Merton, O'Connor, and Percy.
There has been a temptation to see Merton and Day as larger than life, almost saintly figures, Percy and O'Connor as eccentric southerners who happen to be Catholic, and in the case of O'Connor, a Catholic writer trying to impose blatant symbols of faith in all of her writings. Elie certainly admires all four, but shows them from a human point of view. In doing so, he debunks many of the myths surrounding these four figures. From a spiritual point of view, they are just as human as we are, and it is because of their very human struggles that their literary output is possible.
Elie breaks important ground by looking at these four great Catholic figures as writers, and his work will undoubtedly set the stage for further study of the literary connections of Merton, Day, O'Connor, and Percy. His book includes copious endnotes that will enable a person to easily find works by and about these four authors. In most chapters Elie discusses each of the four, but he uses breaks after sections about each author which makes reading easier. Elie himself is a book editor and he uses his skills as an editor to write a concise work. The length of the book demonstrates this alone. The text without endnotes is approximately 475 pages. There are certainly individual works about Merton, O'Connor, and Day equal or greater in length than Elie's work, but hardly say as much. I cannot say for certain about Percy since I am not familiar with scholarly or biographical works about him.
This book will more than likely be of interest to Catholic readers, but anyone who wishes to study the role of faith in Day, Merton, O'Connor, and Percy, will find this book a great read an a valuable resource.