Great literature has often moved me to feeling, but never to tears until ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ by Peter De Vries. As described by the late Dr. Myers back in 2013, the book is, “a comedy about a man whose child dies of cancer.” With this spoiler in mind, I was still left unprepared for the impact of the prose upon my heart.
In truth the novel follows Don Wanderhope from his early childhood through the loss of his daughter, Carol. We don’t meet Carol until the final third of the book, but to that point we are exposed to the persistence of loss, and the complications of faith in the face of such experience.
The death of a young lover brings Wanderhope to question the overseeing doctor on a belief in God, and we are given a great insight to the nature of doubt,
“He just perceptibly raised his eyes, as if in entreaty to Heaven to spare him at least this. It took me some years to attain his mood and understand my blunder. He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and the slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom. Dr. Simpson looked bored as he ground his teeth and gazed away” (111).
Our narrator is a tragic embodiment of something that relates to the human condition. In describing the conflicts of his marriage he observes, “one of those subtle shifts of mood that emphasize how much we live by one another’s variable weather” (147).
But no matter the weight I’m well versed in tragedy. It is a subject matter or genre that brings me a peculiar pleasure. Morbid as it may seem, I delight in such material as it brings me the comforts of community. Upon fighting the ‘beast’ that is Carol’s leukemia, Wanderhope suggests that in the face of a terminal illness, medicine is, “the art of prolonging disease” (183), and that the notion of progress serves only to infect the wound, as, “Progress doubles our tenure in a vale of tears” (242). It is with the loss of Carol that Wanderhope is able to admit that, “Time heals nothing” (246).
The Blood of the Lamb is a hard-hitting piece of work, with a style of prose that tells more than it shows. It’s in this telling that we relate to such loss through empathy. Knowing that the entire book was leading up to the death of a child made it no easier to read the passage in which Carol was lost. I had to put the book down on several occasions, but in returning I always found more value than I had expected, and more emotion than I could handle at times. This was the kind of tragedy that goes beyond standard literary merit… this book moved me to tears more than once.
What makes it so difficult is knowing how closely the story mirrored the life of the author. It’s what made it all so authentic. His conflicting thoughts on faith, and his sharp observations of love, and life, and hatred, brought me to care in such a way as to suggest true feeling… My apologies, for this is not my typical review of sorts… I’m still dealing with the loss described on the page.