- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; New edition edition (June 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226143880
- ISBN-13: 978-0226143880
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Blood of the Lamb: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2005
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I finished Peter De Vries's Blood of the Lamb last night, for the second time. I read it initially sometime in the Sixties, four or five years after it was published, at a time in my life when I loved the irreverence he wields at his tribe--the Dutch Reformed people into which he and I were both born. De Vries mocked us but good, for our silliness and the sometime idiocy of our piety.
Peter De Vries was, in his time, among the most well read and beloved of American humorists, his novels--most of them at least--knee-slapping satires of American life. Google him sometime and read a few of his finest quotes; he can be absolutely hilarious.
There is humor in Blood of the Lamb too, Don Wanderhope and his father, aboard their garbage truck, slowly sinking like the Titanic into the primordial ooze of some Chicago-land refuse pit. Scared to death, they break out with--what else?--the doxology.
But far and away, Blood of the Lamb is not a funny novel--not at all, even though forty years ago, when I first read it, I thought it was a hoot. But then, I was a kid, a rebel chafing under the strictures of De Vries's own ethnic and religious heritage, a heritage in process of cataclysmic change. It was the Sixties, after all, and little, if any of our lives were left untouched by the seismic cultural shifts of the era. At twenty, I read Peter De Vries's Blood of the Lamb and laughed.
Forty years later, I almost cried.
I'm a different person today--not nearly so headstrong, far less sure of my opinions and will. Forty years later, I've got scars, even open wounds, from the fisticuffs me and the Lord have come to. Forty years later, I read an almost entirely different book. The novel didn't change of course. Certainly, I did.
Peter De Vries died in 1993, but I wonder if he ever guessed that of all his books, Blood of the Lamb would be the one that just won't go away. My guess is, he did. He wrote it just a year after the death of his daughter, who died at age 11 of leukemia; and much of the book, that which gives it its immense emotional heft, is the near recitation of the prolonged agony that child faced before eventually, finally, succumbing.* This novel's great lines don't come from his wit, but from his soul.
Honestly, that whole story I had nearly forgotten because that theological fight simply didn't hit me at twenty. I think it was William Hazlett who said something to the effect of no young man thinks he shall ever die; count me among 'em. But at sixty years old, Blood of the Lamb nearly took out the knees in my soul.
The story of Carol Wanderhope's agonizing death is the big story of the novel. Through his daughter's suffering, Don Wanderhope goes to war with a fully sovereign God, the author of our faith and our only comfort, for putting her through the horrifying paces of such inhuman suffering.
The question to which De Vries demands an answer is the same question Elie Wiesel can't help asking in Night and elsewhere, one of the most profound and difficult questions all believers can ever face: if God almighty loves us and his love is blankets the known world, then why on earth do people suffer such great horrors? Peter De Vries's most memorable novel is not a book for the weak of heart--or soul.
But it was a blessing to me, at sixty. It will be, I'm sure, the best thing I will read this summer.
Peter De Vries. The Blood of the Lamb. reprinted by University of Chicago Press (2005) p.215.
Decades before Irving's World According to Garp and its death of child, decades before Picoult's heart-breaking dilemmas, and decades before 'reality fiction,' or what I call voyeuristic nonfiction, Peter De Vries (1910-1993) produced this slim novel of less than 250 pages in 1961. University of Chicago has reprinted this novel and Slouching Towards Kalamazoo in 2005. Of all his writings, this novel is his most personal. De Vries would write more (voluminously) but none of his subsequent works would bear any dedications.
I suspect that De Vries is a lost name to most readers today. Rather unfortunate. James Thurber begged and cajoled De Vries to join The New Yorker, where De Vries would hold sway and champion writers from 1944 to 1987. In addition to Thurber, De Vries counted John Hersey, J.D. Salinger, Robert Penn Warren amongst his friends and earned the praises of Kingsley Amis, Max Beerbohm, and Eveyln Waugh. He was for a time one of America's great humorists. Numerous De Vriesian witticisms have since passed into the American lexicon: "Deep down, he's shallow" is one example.
There is that haggard euphemism that the clowns and the comedians amongst us are the ones who understand grief and sorrow better than the rest of us, using humor as both their fencing mask and foil. This slim novel with the Biblical title and intentional allusion is a father's comedic and tragic journey as he watches his daughter succumb to leukemia. De Vries wears the mask of one Don Wanderhope and with a name like that you know that De Vries was thinking of the allegorical writers, like Hawthorne, who questioned the fearful symmetry of good and evil in the wilderness.
Emily De Vries did not go gentle into that good night at 10 years old. Reared in the Dutch Reformed faith De Vries rails with impotent fury against God (and his faith's Calvinist belief in predestination) in turns of phrases that recall King Lear. Every single page of this novel has a comic observation or powerful turn of phrase that would be the envy of any writer. What is there, he asks, but a "conspiracy of grace"?
While the novel is sad, there is humor, a touch of Chopin's music, and wisdom. De Vries admonishes us to put aside Ego and Fear and love each other while we can because, whether the blood is on the door or not, Death will come, least expected and certainly uninvited.
There are scenes toward the beginning that make one laugh so hard tears come to your eyes. And there is a 20-30 page section toward the end during which you'll be reading words blurred constantly by tears of sadness.
Devries also happens to be one of the best wordsmiths ever of the English language; be on the constant look-out for his puns, wordplay, and intimated ironies.
All in all, if you've ever had a child, or even a love, it will take you days to initially recover from the story, and it's effect will stay with you forever. Never has a sense of loss been so profoundly and eloquently expressed.