Friday, April 13, 2012

Julie's Review: The Variations

Summary: A powerful debut novel about a priest who has lost his church, his mentor, and, most upsetting, his ability to pray. How can Father Dominic protect or guide his parish when everything he loves falls away? How can he counsel Dolores, a troubled teenager prone to emotional panic and spiritual monomania? Or James, a promising African American pianist, struggling to realize his artistic ambitions by bringing his own voice to a piece that has been played by the world's most brilliant pianists, Bach's Goldberg Variations. Into this malaise comes Andrea, a sophisticated New York editor attracted at first by Dom's blog and then by the man himself. Dom's journey from the cloth into the secular world will offer carnal knowledge, but also something deeper, a more resistant knowledge as life fails to offer happiness or redemption. In prose both searching and muscular, John Donatich's The Variations has located the right metaphor for our spiritual crisis in this story of one man's spiritual disillusion and ache for self-knowledge.

Review: I will say that The Variations won't be for everyone. I'm not even sure if I hadn't received a copy if I would have picked it up on my own. Having said that, I did enjoy it because it was out of my realm. A book about a Priest's crisis of faith didn't really appeal to me off the cuff.

It wasn't so much about the characters for me in this novel as it was their journey. All of them were on a quest for self-discovery whether it be to figure out where you belonged, what you were meant to do or who you were meant to be all of the characters were discovery that. They are all struggling in various ways in the lives they are currently leading. Will they change? Will they change the course of their path in life?

I think that Father Dom was disenchanted with the Catholic church and it's red tape, which led him to his crisis of being unable to pray, which then led to his crisis of faith. All of these things change the course of his life.

James struggled with what it meant to become a classic pianist and to do so being a young black man. Could the two exist? Could he be a black musician or a musician who happened to be black? How could he distinguish the two and get others to note the differences as well? Did he have it in him to be a great pianist?

Dolores' struggle was to figure out where she fit in. Frankly, I struggled with her whole story. I know she was there as a catalyst for the change in Father Dom but other than that I didn't connect with her story. I pretty much dismissed her as a lot of people in the community did. Does that make me right? No, but it's how her story made me feel.

Mr. Donatich has a gift for prose. His writing is eloquent and quiet. There were times during the novel where I was shocked by some of the language. Not because it wasn't true to the character but more because of how it came out of nowhere. Here are some examples:

Never had he realized with such profundity that the Church cared less about the saving of a particular soul than the survival of its bureaucracy on a grand scale. - page 58
What made Dom queasy was the arrogance of the Church's position on personal matters: birth control, premarital sex, gay rights, abortion. Why was the Church so disgusted by intimate matters? Why did it recoil at the very idea of biological self-determination? Was it really the domain of these sexless, old men to watch over the laws of propagation. - page 127
If you are in the mood for something a little different, then I would recommend The Variations.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Thanks to Henry Holt for sending me a copy of this novel.



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