The Humorous And The Tragic
The Blood of the Lamb, by Peter De Vries (Little, Brown & Company, 1962, 246 pp., $4), is reviewed by George Harper, Associate Professor of English, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The trickle of high-level religious novels has become a runnel in the last few years, and it should surprise no one to find even Peter De Vries, the author of The Mackerel Plaza (surely the finest spoof on fading religious modernism in recent literature), adding to the flow with his latest novel, The Blood of the Lamb. De Vries was reared in a strict religious group, the Christian Reformed community of Chicago’s South Side, and the culture he absorbed through the skin, with the habit of strong responses to great human affairs that distinguishes groups which take their religion seriously (all salvation and grace, or none; if none, none with a vengeance), is dyed deeply in him, will not wear away, can be hidden for a time under a suitable cosmetic, but is ineradicable, and hence, perhaps, his choice of theme in this novel.
Choice of theme, but not of plot. The plot is chaotic, episodic, and thin, but the theme, when it finally settles down to work, is the death of a young girl of eight. Worked in and out among the various medical and social and lyric observations on the death of the child (the only daughter of the widowed hero, Don Wanderhope) are De Vries’ pronouncements on faith, doubt, grace, divine love (and hate), cosmic justice, the bad hands dealt one by fate, God, the genes, and so on. To be fair, it should be added that many of these old chestnuts occupy De Vries’ hero in the years when he is growing up in Chicago among the Dutch garbage-collectors of the area, and arise later from his hero’s recollections ...1
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