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Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review: The Yearling

The third installment in these scraggly, underfed book reviews for the summer...

Last year, Alex and Carley introduced me to Andrew Peterson's breathtaking new album, Light for the Lost Boy.  Having only recently begun to appreciate the poetry of this fantastic artist, I was thrilled with the new CD and reveled in the depth of songs like Carry the Fire and Don't You Want to Thank Someone. However, I had a few complaints.  One of them was the Ballad of Jody Baxter.  Gasp, dear reader, at my ignorance.  I found the song disjointed and frustrating.  Who was this Jody lady and why was she running down to the creek to go fishing and what does a deer, a storm, and a garden have anything to do with it?  I dismissed the song as the poetic ramblings of a desperate, yet beloved, artist.  I extended mercy knowing that I myself have written things before that meant little to anyone else.  Whenever I listened to the CD, I skipped the song and enjoyed the rest that I could understand.  Oh, I was casting aside a rare jewel with the recklessness of a monkey!  

On the way to church one Sunday, Alex played the CD and did not skip the Ballad.  My groans were instantaneous.  "Ugh!  This is the worst song on this whole album!  It makes no sense."  This is not the first time I have spoken with complete stupidity to my dear friends.  Alex was surprised that I didn't like it, knowing my love of literature. He patiently queried, "Did you know that he wrote the song because he was inspired by a book?"  Instant regret filled me that I had degraded something sprung from the revered ground of written text.  "Oh...?"  Alex could not remember the name of the book.  My own research returned the title: The Yearling. And the realization that Jody was a young boy.  (blush...)

I admit, with further shame, my adamant skepticism.  Andrew Peterson, my favorite modern poet, was inspired to write a song because of a book about a deer?  Seriously?  Baby animals are cute... I say that knowing that it groups me with the stereotype of women nationwide.  But whole books about baby animals and in particular a baby deer that doesn't even show up in the book until 100 pages in?  
Still, Andrew Peterson had liked it.  Loved it even.  Enough to write a blog post about it with his own tears to end it.  Tears?  Yes.   

The book rambles.  It frustrates.  It survives.  And I loved it.  I loved the hunting and the figuring and the living that goes on.  It's pages drip with life.  And death.  I love the opulence of its descriptions and the drawings of the rooted earth.  The orientation of the entire book is not Jody, or even a person at all.  It is nature.  Everything is seasons and colors and elements.  Always everyone in relationship to nature.  

Honestly, I had no idea that I had a place in my heart for such a book.  Rugged living isn't my go-to literature.  But something of its themes rushed fresh air into musty corners of my heart.  The rigors and delights of youth in the wild and the distinction between immaturity and innocence slice through the deceptively wandering plot.   

In Jody's words, the book left me, "Torn with hate for all death and pity for all aloneness."  And I add the ache of Tennyson's words.  "Though much is taken, much abides."  Jody grows up.  The yearling dies.  
And in Peterson's words, "It was good, good, good. But now it's gone.  And there's a little boy who's lost out in the woods always looking for the fawn."    

Read it.  Relish it.  And return to the woods.  

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