Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Heart's Invisible Fury by John Boyne

A novel can be transformative, for it has the ability to condense our experience and reflect what we knew back in a way that we recognize as true while enlarging our understanding and engaging our heart.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne tells the life story of Cyril Avery, spanning seventy years between 1945 and 2015. It is the story of a young man growing up, a good but passive man who is not allowed to be a real son, an honest friend, who makes mistakes and survives horrible losses. In the end he discovers his true identity and is able to rectify relationships.

The story has its terrifying and violent moments. The dark humor brought out-loud laughter. And it has sorrows that brought tears to my eyes.

It is a compassionate book. It is a work which unsparingly attacks hypocrisy and double standards in society and the church. The worst people can do, the violence and hate crimes and prejudice is all revealed. As is forgiveness, understanding, and the vision of a state of being that will recompense our earthly losses.

I was totally unprepared for this book when I chose it as my Blogging for Books read. It was one of those happy accidents of a book finding its right reader.

The novel opens in Ireland at a time when the church controls social mores and with a harsh hand ferrets out illicit sexual activity, unwed teens and homosexuals especially.

Cyril Avery, 'not a real Avery' his adoptive father reminds him, was born to an unwed mother who was rejected by her family and parish. His birth came in a moment of terror. His self-absorbed adotpive parents gave him a home but no affection, yet he loved and accepted them. His childhood and university friend Julian was beautiful, brash, and self assured. Julian, like his father and like Cyril's father, was sexually promiscuous from an early age. He became the secret object of Cyril's affection, which Cyril does not reveal until the morning he was to marry Julian's sister.

"What was I even doing here? Years of regret and shame began to overwhelm me. A lifetime of lying, of feeling that I was being forced to lie, had led me to a moment where I was not only preparing to destroy my own life but also that of a girl who had done nothing whatsoever to deserve it."
I recalled a minister friend from long ago, smart and fun and capable, and his wife who like me was an English major at university. At annual conference we would met up and talk. Years passed and the wife was expecting their first child. The husband told her that he was in love with someone else and that he was gay. Our denomination would not appoint a homosexual, and to this day will not appoint a homosexual unless they are celibate. So, he had married a woman he loved deeply, and pretended to love her sexually as well. It was devastating, the wife faced with raising a child as a single mother, the husband waiting to hear if his career would be taken away. What that taught me was not to hate my friend but the evil that forced him to deny who he was, unable to live honestly and wholly.

"I can't excuse my actions," Cyril tells Julian's sister years later, "but I didn't have the courage or maturity to be honest with myself, let alone anyone else."

And I recalled another friend, a young man grappling with his sexuality during the early days of AIDS, whose self loathing and fear of family rejection kept him not only closeted but even dating. In these days, a woman told me she hated picking up a phone that had been used by another gay friend,  an otherwise intelligent woman.  Boyne's book addresses this too, as Cyril volunteers to visit AIDS victims and experiences the hatred and blame put on gays for the disease.

Near the end of his life, Cyril meets his birth mother and learns his story. "Maybe there were no villains in my mother's story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing."

His mother looks at her home village's graveyard and says, "All these people. And all of that trouble. And look, they're dead now. So what did it all matter in the end?" She wonders, "Why did they abandon me? Why do we abandon each other? Why did I abandon you?"

Why do we allow ourselves to be led into hate and violence? How can we look at a son or daughter, a friend or schoolmate, and allow some idea to alienate us, so we do not see the person we know but a vision of something frightening?

In the flawed, humane, and tempest-tossed Cyril perhaps we will recognize we are all fallen creatures tyring to just get through life, hoping for a moment's affection and love.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Heart's Invisible Furies
John Boyne
Hogarth Books
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 978-1-5247-6078-6

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