Thursday, June 26, 2008

"god lives in my hometown"

I recently read the novel Seven Hill City, written by internet essayist B. Thompson Stroud. Having been a frequent visitor to B's website, Progressive Boink, and a fan of his writing since 2004, I realized that reading his novel was an activity long past due. Being familiar with his articles on P-Boi, which rely heavily on references to pop culture to contextualize his experiences as a young man finding his way into adulthood and a sense of self (including the self as it relates to alluring members of the fairer sex), I felt I had a sense of what to expect from his fiction. (Because there is almost always a little bit of the author in every character ever written.)

Seven Hill City deals with much broader issues than the appeal of wrestling and video games, though both play major roles in the characters' lives. The theme of death is at the forefront of what may seem like a simple tale of the protagonist's unrequited love for a beautiful girl spanning his adolescence. Said beautiful girl is the ethereal Aranea Cavatica, who mysteriously shows up in the life of Brooks White when he needs her the most - at the funerals of friends and relatives, and in the hallways of high school. As their friendship develops, Aranea's secret is slowly revealed to Brooks, and revealed to be part of a larger system in the world around him.

The world that Brooks lives in is Lynchburg, VA, a city notably at the heart of the vocal Christian segment of the American population. Stroud is a lifelong resident of Lynchburg, and his familiarity with the culture there provides a solid backdrop for the story. It might be difficult for readers without a similar level of exposure to evangelical Christians to understand the kind of things that Brooks has had to think about his entire life. Most people raised with religion as a strong presence in their young lives have faced the questions that come with maturity, and these are particularly prescient for Brooks.

As a reader with a strong interest in religion and its impact on our personal lives and identities, I was able to get a better sense of Brooks through his perception of religion. There are a lot of aspects of his life that I couldn't relate to, but this was one way in which he struck a chord with me. I felt that the final act of the novel became a bit too disjointed for my taste, but was brought together in a bittersweet ending that satisfied. I was generally more interested in secondary characters like Auburn and Solomon than the leads, throughout, but the novel's resolution was a satisfactory ending to a book that asked a lot of interesting questions.

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