Reading Wilder and Thinking

Many years ago (while in high school)  I read Thorton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It made an impression on me. Over the years my recollection of the book faded, so that only the basic plot remained. I decided to read it again this week, along with one of Wilder’s later novels, Heaven’s My Destination.

Wilder examines lives. In The Bridge of San Luis Rey the themes of relationship, love, and solitude are ever-present. The miscommunication, inequality, and tension that sabotage honesty are interesting to observe. I like Uncle Pio’s thoughts on love: “He regarded love as a sort of cruel malady through which the elect are required to pass in their late youth and from which they emerge, pale and wrung, but ready for the business of living.” And why is this so important? Because to the person armed with this experience it is then impossible to ever view a person “as a mechanical object.” Interesting point.

In Heaven’s My Destination I see some similar themes. Other questions are raised too. If we desire to examine our lives and live well, what should our motivation be? Why do we seek to change the lives of others? Interesting things to consider.

Three things I liked about Heaven’s My Destination:

1. “They looked at one another and became great friends.”

2. Judge Carberry covertly reads George Eliot’s Adam Bede while hearing testimony in a case.

3. George Brush loses someone and something he values. Immediately following that loss his business thrives and he grows wealthy–some consolation. Which prompts this passage: “But these consolations were more apparent than real. They could not conceal the stab of physical pain that went through him when, on evening walks, he glimpsed through half-drawn blinds the felicities of an American home, or when in church he discovered that the old-fashioned hymns no longer had the power to render him inexplicably happy. From time to time whole nights passed without his being able to sleep; occasionally he sat down to a meal, only to discover that he had no appetite whatever.”

I like Wilder. He asks questions. He wrestles with measuring the value and meaning of life. In doing so he prompts his readers to do the same.


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