God and grace are everywhere in Brian Doyle’s world

October 31, 2011

Bobz Book Reviews, General

It’s 5:59 a.m. on a Wednesday and I’m reading and laughing aloud at one end of the house, trying not to stir Sleeping Beauty at the other end. Five days later, at 6:05 a.m., instant replay. Brian Doyle and “Grace Notes” is to blame.

This is writing to savor in the silence and holiness before the rest of the world wakens.

Goodness the man can write.

Lord he can tell a story.

In “Grace Notes” Doyle tells 37 of them, about himself,  about his family, about people and things you’d never think someone would write about but when you’d finished reading you were glad Brian Doyle became a writer.

There’s a good balance of Doyle stories and other people stories in this 148-page Acta Publications paperback. He goes into tell-all phase about his interior life. He’s an amazingly acute observer of his kids and his wife, who he is quick to admit he doesn’t understand. That’s the laugh-aloud funny stuff.

But he’s at his best giving voice to others, a wonderfully eclectic mix whose lives you’ll be so glad you entered — even if vicariously through ink on paper.

There’s the woman on the bus who talks about wanting to have a child but whose husband is apprehensive, the parents dropping off their daughter for college and crying as they do so, the people behind the stories behind those white crosses we all see on the side of the highway.

Hope is everywhere

Doyle sees the grace in every corner of life. Here’s what I mean — you’ll recognize a key phrase in this quote:

“Look, I know very well that brooding misshapen evil is everywhere, in the brightest houses and the most cheerful denials, in what we do and what we have failed to do, and I know all too well that the story of the world is entropy, things fly apart, we sicken, we fail, we grow weary, we divorce, we are hammered and hounded by loss and accidents and tragedies. But I also know, with all my hoary muddled heart, that we are carved of immense confusing holiness; that the whole point for us is grace under duress; and that you either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind the wall. I believe that the coolest things there are cannot be measured, calibrated, calculated, gauged, weighed, or understood except sometimes by having a child patiently explain it to you, which is another thing that should happen far more often to us all.

“In short, I believe in believing, which doesn’t make sense, which gives me hope.”

My favorite might be the story of the man who, as both a policeman in his town and a soldier, is the one who knocks on doors to tell mothers and father and wives and husbands that their son or daughter or husband or wife is dead.

The holiness pours from this man in his respect for people, his respect for life. Catch this, through Doyle’s writing: “You mostly just listen. People tell stories. Often their first reaction, after the initial shock and grief, is to tell stories….People tell me I should write them down but I feel that they are private stories, you know, stories that only came to me because someone’s heart broke in the kitchen.”

Finally, you won’t want to miss Doyle’s amazing lists of who is going to get into heaven and how they’ll be scrutinized — and by whom — before being allowed in. It’s priceless. Doyle is one of our generation’s great Catholic writers.– bz

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski