Resistance by Barry Lopez (2004)

 

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Resistance has been on my book shelf for several years, and today (snow day number 3) it called to me.  I don’t know why.  I had a pile of other books next to my couch, but I grabbed this one instead. It’s a thought provoking journey on what a good and meaningful like looks like. While this is a fictional collection of nine stories, they read more like narrative essays: narratives of nine people mostly living abroad who have embraced a non-mainstream life but who are now “parties of interest” to our government. The first story sets the scene: Owen Daniels, an art curator living in Paris, receives a letter (and through backroom internet channels, he finds out that all nine received the same letter) in which the government wants to “speak with us” and that there is “widespread irritation with our work” We find out that the nine went their separate ways post college, all abroad in what appears to be some sort of political movement against tyranny at home.  But each story is really about love and friendship and compassion: one is an architect in Buenos Aires, another, a carpenter in India, a third takes place in Northern Montana.  In each story–some more plot oriented than others–the narrator is searching for the answer to a larger question about life, and while they all have this soul-searching feel to them, each is unique, detailed, and compelling.  Owens narrates in the opening story “Apocalypse,” “we reject the assertion, promoted today  by success-mongering bull terries in business, in government, in religion, that humans are goal seeking animals. We believe they are creatures in search of proportion in life, a pattern of grace.  It is balance and beauty people want, not triumph” (11). And that excerpt offers us a window into each of the other eight stories.  Combined, the characters seem to offer Lopez’s vision of seeking a place of solace and contentment in a new and changing world (written in 2004, that new and changing world would have been the end of W’s first term in office).

While I think this book works best in one sitting, it is a challenging read.  Geographically, many stories are set in remote and unknown places; philosophically and intellectually, all the stories probe us with complex questions; and rhetorically, Lopez uses words and syntax in unusual ways.  I had to look up at least 20 words, either ones I did not know (arrogate and putative) or ones used in unusual ways (living an antic life; her acceptance was an embayment).  Excellent writing and thoughtful reading. Many sentences and paragraphs deserve two or three reads, plus a sip of coffee or wine–time to contemplate. I don’t feel this review has done it justice. I highly recommend.

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