Listening for God: Malamud, O'Connor, Updike, & Morrison

Peter C. Brown

Listening for God: Malamud, O'Connor, Updike, & Morrison
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Listening for God: Malamud, O'Connor, Updike, & Morrison

Peter C. Brown

We live in a secular age, where the world and its ways seem to indicate the absence of God. The testimony of ancient and latter-day prophets requires more faith (or credulity) than most of us can manage. Can we still find spiritual truths that will restore a sense of a higher meaning to our lives? For millennia, people have looked to literature, to scriptures, epics, poems, plays, novels, and films for insights into the human condition. In our increasingly rationalized world, some of these contemporary storytellers - like a Bernard Malamud, Flannery O'Connor, John Updike, or Toni Morrison? - stretch their art to find new words for the sacred. The God for whom they listen is elusive, a mystery. Their stories and novels are not make-believe accounts of a supernatural Being. They are stories that dig beneath all the ordinary ways we try to justify our lives to uncover in them the traces of a transcending judgment that both exalts and humbles us. Their engrossing stories are not just the moral parables or cunning plots they appear on the surface to be. Peter Brown offers a highly interdisciplinary examination of these four authors who represent four different faith traditions within Judeo-Christianity: Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and syncretistic (blending Africanist creole beliefs with Catholicism). All subversive writers, they work in extraordinary ways to undermine their own stories and open us, their readers, to something more, something that transcends time and fate. The close reading this requires from us is part of the trick, and the pleasure. Brown invites us to reread them to listen for this elusive transcendence, a sacred mystery that rebukes both the atheist’s weak humanism and the believer’s naive supernaturalism.

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