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A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction Paperback – March 26, 2002
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Ron Hansen's novels have explored spiritual themes. Atticus was inspired by the story of the prodigal son; Mariette in Ecstasy imagines an American nun who received the stigmata. In A Stay Against Confusion, his first essay collection, Hansen mines the connections between faith and fiction even more explicitly and offers fans of his novels the rare opportunity to learn how he has integrated his artistic and religious passions. Hansen, who is Catholic, writes that his love of stories has been inseparable from his love of liturgy since boyhood. And his broadminded reading of the Bible finds there "a kind of myth, a history full of facts and truths but also a fiction formed with harmony, proportion, and beauty, and fully at ease with uncertainties, metaphor, and poetic fancy." With the Bible as his touchstone, in essays such as "Writing As Sacrament" and "What Stories Are and Why We Read Them," Hansen offers clear, direct, and nuanced articulations of the common ground between literary and religious life. "Our need for stories is our need ... to have confirmed for us the theology we hold secret in our heart, that even the least of us are necessary to the great universal plot in ways we hadn't imagined." The book also contains essays of a more specialized nature, including "Eucharist" and "Stigmata," and a number of evocative autobiographical reflections, including a tribute to Hansen's mentor John Gardner. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In this rich, eloquent and thoughtful group of essays, literature professor and award-winning novelist Hansen (Atticus; Hitler's Niece) muses on the subjects of fiction writing and transcendent faith. "Writing," he claims, "can be viewed as a sacrament insofar as it provides graced occasions of encounter between humanity and God." Hansen sees both the act of writing and the Catholic sacraments as experiences to be lived more than interpreted. When the two are completely defined and understood, they lose their mystery and power. Hansen explores the writings and life of his friend John Gardner, the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Leo Tolstoy's "Master and Man" and Isak Dinesen's story "Babette's Feast," along with the latter's film version. Along the way he speaks of Jesus' parables, the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, the Eucharist, the stigmata, the Anima Christi prayer and his grandfather. Through all these seemingly disparate narrative threads, Hansen helps readers achieve a glimpse of grace and God. He speaks of his own strong Irish Catholic upbringing (pre- and post-Vatican II) and how its traditions have enhanced his life and writing, even when he was in the "insubordination" phase of his life. Anyone who is passionate about good writing, or perchance sees it as a holy exercise, will agree with Hansen that good fiction can enrich spiritual faith. This is a deeply satisfying read.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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On the "faith" side his meditation on "Anima Christi" is a solid sample of devotional literature. While is is comfortably safe, it encourages creative thinking regarding the meaning of the prayer. It encourages engagement rather than mere repetition.
Also on the "faith" side is his meditation on the Eucharist. While this essay provides amusing, interesting autobiographical information and evokes an earlier (pre-Vatican II) age of American Catholicism, it fails to establish any separate identity - one can read several similar essays by other authors and the essay will simple dissolve into the familiar.
Similarly, historical pieces such as "Hearing the Cry of the Poor: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador" and "The Pilgrim: Saint Ignatius of Loyola" are competent but non-distictive historical essays.
On the "fiction" side "The Wizard: Remembering John Gardner," "Babette's Feast" and "Affliction and Grace: Religious Experience in the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins" are solid, thought-provoking analyses. But again there is no scream demanding a rereading.
In "The Story of Cain" where Hansen explores the story in Genesis and his relationship with his twin brother, Hansen finally achieves the promise of the subtitle. Life, Holy Scripture and faith are merged into a cohesive whole and the cohesion attracts the reader's attention.
Finally, the three initial essays, "Writing as Sacrament", "Faith and Fiction" and "What Stories Are and Why We Read Them" are solid though undistinctive mediations on faith and fiction. For fans of Hansen, they provide insight into authorial intent/world-view while acknowledging that art, including literature, takes on a life of its own.