Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Morning and the Evening by Joan Williams: Our Best and Worst Natures

Jake Darby was different. Born a mute, he is unable to communicate and is taken for an idiot. He is self-contained, separate, regimented. His brother has already fled their small Southern town leaving Jake and his mother to struggle alone. When Jake's mother passes the town folk feel pity and Jake becomes theirs to care for. They bring him meals and mend his shirts. Forty-three years old Jake is dependent on their good will.

But one day a lonely misfit reaches for Jake in a desperate need to connect and Jake goes running and screaming into the night. A mad dog has been reported in a neighboring town and people's pity turns to fear.

I finished this book just before Thanksgiving and have contemplated what to say over the past week. What you need to know is that the book has haunted me, lingering past the family gathering and the visitors, the cleaning up, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday buying sprees. What better thing can I say?

Jake becomes a litmus test for the town folk, showing their true colors. Except the color is inconclusive. They have a capacity for altruism, and a self-interested reaction to put away those things perceived as a threat. People seek companionship and love--often in the wrong places. They desire things, often small things, and justify actions that bring about an outcome far from what was expected.

Kirkus Reviews stated that the subject matter may turn people away from this book. There is discomfort and sadness. The hardest part is how it mirrors humanity back to itself, so we are confronted with our many failings and sins but also with our capacity for good.

The Morning and The Evening by Joan Williams was first published as a story in 1952 with a sequel Mademoiselle published four years later. In 1961 Atheneum published the two stories combined as a novel. William Styron wrote that it "is a haunting and beautiful tale, richly infused with humor and sharp insights into the human predicament." The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, which that year went to Walker Percy's The Movie Goer and was up against now classic books including Joseph Heller's Catch 22, J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zoey, and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.

I thank NetGalley and Open Road Media for access to the e-book for my unbiased review.

The Morning and the Evening
Joan Williams
Open Road Media
Publication December 30, 2014
ISBN 9781497694637

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