Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Bizarre, Grace-Filled Family

When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton

Perhaps you remember Jane Hamilton from some of her previous books. Her most famous to date is probably A Map of the World. She is an excellent storyteller whose characters make an imprint. When Madeline Was Young is compelling. Aaron and Madeline Maciver are married in their early twenties. After the first year of their marriage, Madeline is brain-damaged in a bicycle accident. She is left with the temperament and intellectual capacity of a first-grader.

Eventually, Aaron Maciver legally divorces Madeline and remarries Julia Beeson. Aaron and Julia care for Madeline for the rest of her life as if she were their own child. The story of approximately sixty years of the Maciver family history is narrated by Aaron and Julia's son Timothy (known as "Mac"). There are a couple of themes woven through the story. One is Madeline's disability and the effect it has on the whole group. There are wonderful instances of tenderness and care lavished upon Madeline, and also heartbreaking sadness as Madeline stays eternally young and group after group of friends/playmates leaves her behind. Another theme is war (the years of the narrative take us from Vietnam all the way to our current debacle in Iraq) and the conflicted opinions surrounding war, courage, and patriotism. I suspect that the effect these conflicts have on the large, extended Maciver family will feel familiar to many.

Jane Hamilton does an amazing job of voicing a male narrator and nailing some of his griefs and his instances of feeling like an observer of his own life. There are lots of interesting characters in this novel, and a few turns of phrase that will pierce the reader's heart. More on this tomorrow.
Don't want to go on too long.

That's all for now,

Reading Rev


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