A Not So Little Way

This is something I have not written in nearly 40 years now, a book review. I just finished reading The Little Way of Ruth Leming by Rod Dreher.

Now, as regular followers of Uncle Chuckie know, Rod has a blog on The American Conservative website, is an editor and a bit of a crackpot. Ok, I’m having fun with the crackpot part. He and I have been going back and forth on his blog for some years now, he’s the man who coined the phrase Cosimanian Orthodoxy, as a joke, and I think that there are times when he puts up with me because he can joke with me and I will not be offended.

Actually, among the Social Conservatives, he is a major force and one to be listened to seriously. And being a writer, when his sister, Ruth Leming, died, he worked out his grief by writing a book. Ok, no surprise, this is what writers do. It was not a book I expected to read. It is a book I actually did not want to read. After all, my taste in books is much different and nothing blows up in this one, even though a bar does catch fire near the end. But then it dawned on me that if I was going to be dealing with someone’s writing, it would probably make a bit of sense to know more about why that person thinks the way they do. What forces made Rod, Rod.

Ok, I knew that I was going to be reading about an alien culture. I’m a Northerner, born and bred. My maternal great to the third grandfather fought in the Civil War for the Union. To me, the South might as well be a crater on Mars. Well, what I didn’t realize was that during the Civil War Rod’s ancestor and mine probably shot at each other because my Great3 Grandfather was part of the army that invaded Louisiana. You see, Rod organized the book into three basic sections. The first is more an autobiography with his sister as a sort of supporting character. And that was the reason I read the book in the first place, to learn the way the boy became the man.

Then he gets to the cancer diagnosis. And oddly enough this was the part of the book I thought I would have no interest in at all. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t have much time for talk of illness. I’ve had enough of my own. But I should have known better. After all, I have been suffering through Rod’s writing for some years now. And I’m joking. He’s a good writer and to be fair he’s suffered through mine. At this point his talent as a writer really comes through because the second part could have been pure soap opera and in such books it usually is. But it isn’t. It really isn’t. Yes, it does get to be a bit of tearjerker, but when it does the emotion is a genuine upwelling from inside the reader as a part of the story touches something in their own life. This part really is for anyone who has mourned, who has ever fought a life-threatening illness or stood by while a loved one has.

The third part, the story of his move back to his old home town is perhaps the weakest part of the book. It is the part that has had the best reviews from his Social Conservative friends, but it did not move me as much the second part or interest me as much as the first. I think that is more something about me than the book. Reconciliation is not something in the Cosimanian Orthodox liturgy, at least not normally and I’m not sure that Rod’s motivation for returning is sufficiently explained even though it is described in detail. The image of Rod, the cultured, sophisticated, Francophile driving a truck with the family belongings is one that will bring a smile to my face for a long time.

One thing about the book that strikes me is how a story on his blog can get one response and in the context of the book quite another. A case in point, Rod describes how, during a visit home, he and his wife made boullia-oh-French fish stew dammit–I can never spell that damned word–for a dinner with his sister, her husband and his parents. In the blog, Ruthie’s behavior, her refusal to touch it, seemed just funny. Sort of like the time I was visiting friends and when the wife was going to make stew I offered to take them out to dinner. Her stew was something one does not wish on the in-laws. In the book, it is ill-mannered and insulting beyond words and I’m surprised that Rod and his wife ever even spoke to her again after the incident. But that is where we see the aspect of Rod that is in some ways most interesting, and at times most discomforting, but not in bad way.

Rod is a Christian. And I mean that literally. He does not merely define himself as one, he really is one and he can exhibit both the best and the worst of what a Christian can be, depending on the subject of the blog. At his best, he can be the best PR person Orthodoxy has had in 1700 years. At his worst, one roots for the lions. But when he wrote of the need he felt for reconciliation with those he had offended over the years, it was some of his best writing, the words of a fundamentally good man who has the misfortune to be in a fundamentally not good world. His is the fate of honest men.

I think that to truly appreciate this book you need some years under you. But by all means, if you are looking for a good book, this is it. It is a rare insight into how we are made by the people around us and the place we grew up in and how it will touch us long after we have left.

One Response to “A Not So Little Way”

  1. A Not So Little Way | ChristianBookBarn.com Says:

    […] Recommended Article FROM https://cwcosimano.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/a-not-so-little-way/ […]

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