Back for the 1,000th book vote, I shared the story about how I’d started Frederick Buechner’s “A Long Day’s Dying” at the Library of Congress but never got it finished.
Last week, I finally read it.
It’s strange, in a way, to have finished this book which I had anticipated for so long. None of it seemed familiar after the first chapter though I know I read more of it than that, in the glorious rotunda reading room of the LoC.
I liked it. But it wasn’t what I expected.
The book is about Tristram Bone, his unrequited love, Elizabeth Poor, her mother Maroo, her college-age son Lee, Lee’s professor Paul, Bone’s friend novelist George Motley, Bone’s housekeeper Emma and his pet monkey, Simon. These players move about each other in a quiet story about love and lies and gossip and misinterpretation. Interestingly, this book is his first and it kind of shows.
Like a lot of writers, the first work is good… good enough to get noticed. But having read Buechner’s later works first, including his Pulitzer-nominated “Godric,” I see how all the themes of his work were really cemented later. Ideas of forgiveness and faith and saints as sinners which permeate some of his other work were present, but just less matured.
I think to some extent, I didn’t love it as much because I’d built it up in my head. I was expecting this amazing book and it was that, but it probably couldn’t ever live up to the amazingness I’d envisioned.
A Long Day’s Dying isn’t my favorite Buechner book. That’s going to be a perpetual toss up between Son of Laughter and the Magnificent Defeat, likely. But I am really glad I got to this book that started it all.