Monday, April 28, 2008
monday book review: all shall be well; and all shall be well; and all manner of things shall be well
Most days I'm a woman who's fairly comfortable in her own skin. Perhaps I wasn't born into the wealthiest family, didn't come from the most glamorous of places, and was certainly dealt a rather short and befreckled genetic hand; but even still, I'm generally pretty content being me. I do, however, recognize that there are loads of people in the world who don't share my contented outlook: women who feel they were meant to be men, men who don't feel truly fulfilled unless wearing a dress and heels, fans who are at their happiest conversing in Klingon at a Star Trek convention, and kids like the one in my first hour who create full-body fox costumes (now complete with a head!) because they feel as if they'd be better off born cartoon fox than human.

And whatever. Can't say I get it, but if no one's getting hurt then go do whatever weird thing you need to do to be happy, you.

But although I really can't relate, I can't help but be fascinated with people who are so uncomfortable in their own skin that they reject their gender, species, culture and/or time period in favor of another. And Burt Hecker - protagonist of Tod Wodicka's horribly titled debut novel - is one such person.

Burt (known as Eckbert Attquiet to his fellow medieval enthusiasts) is a man lost in time. Orphaned at birth and raised by nuns in an upstate New York monastery, Burt had always felt that he was better suited for the 1100's than the 1900's. Whenever possible, he spurns modern inventions such as coffee, potatoes and pants in favor of his medieval homemade mead, oat gruel and tunics. He doesn't drive or work, and spends most of his time with his fellow eccentrics hosting huge medieval reenactments in the backyard of the bed and breakfast he calls home. Considering all this, I'm sure it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that Burt's personal life is a bit of a mess.

Although the timeline of the novel bounces around through Burt's life, it begins with him as an angry old man in Germany, recently widowed and seeking the forgiveness of the son he adores but who will no longer speak to him. The tragic reason for this distance is revealed during his trek through Bohemia, and although I still couldn't relate to Burt by the novel's conclusion, I found myself smitten with the weird little curmudgeon nonetheless.

Many reviewers touted this book as being a black comedy; but while it's definitely wry, I certainly wouldn't call it funny. By and large, All Shall be Well... is a melancholic, odd, and beautifully written tragedy - one that most people will probably overlook due to the title and subject matter. And it's a shame, that. I sort of loved this book.

All Shall be Well; and All Shall be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall be Well
Tod Wodicka
2008, 264 pages

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Blogger Mary said...

Hooray! A good book! Now I will casually add this one to my list.

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