Review: Russell Banks, Cloudsplitter: a novel.

Partway through Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks’s ambitious fictional account of John Brown’s adult life, our narrator, John’s third son Owen, reflects that his relationship to his father is analogous to Job’s relationship with God.  That is, God is, well, God, just like John Brown was John Brown, and the status entitles this looming divine presence to behave as he will, and Job or Owen must simply follow, because one does not question the divine.   As Job says, in chapter 42:

I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know . . .  5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

This is hard stuff; the sort of religion that Americans today often describe as “Old Testament,” lingo that has become a sort of shorthand for a God who is hard and demanding, a God whose behavior might today be characterized as human rights violations, a God who seems to care more about righteous behavior than self-esteem.   However much a distortion of the actual Hebrew Bible this is, believing in this sort of God takes the sort of iron-willed faith that many Americans today recoil from instinctively. [Read more...]