Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe - Marylee Daniel Mitcham

Summary:   It's 1973 when Rosalie Wolfe and her daughter Meadow leave Cincinnati and head to rural Kenucky where Rosalie hopes to "find" the God she feels abandoned by.  Both mother and daugter are excited by their God-seeking adventure in different ways and romanticize being poor like the "poor people" God is known to love.  Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe is a first novel more complex in design than its simple, religious plot would suggest.  Don't beware, but be aware!  The novel's name on the book's cover is Mitcham's name for HER novel, while a similar title on the Contents page is the character Rosalie's name for HER novel about someone she calls Hannah Wolfe; a voice within a voice within Mitcham's voice.  On the final page, Mark Twain checks in from the Dead with an AFterword; will wonders never cease?  (Summary from the book - Image from - Book given free for review) 

My Review: Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe is not for the dimwitted or lackadaisical reader. It took me a while to wrap my head around the concept of a book within a book (Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song within Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe)—a story written by someone written by someone else. Add to that the foreword written by a character in the novella, a memoir (Counting Down) written by an entirely different character, and a postscript written by Mark Twain and I guarantee that you have never read a book like this one.

The story of Hannah Wolfe is, at turns, disturbing and poignant as she and her young daughter, Meadow, attempt to carve out a new life in a tumbledown cabin in the Kentucky backwoods. As she develops a relationship with a drifter that is a mixture of attraction, violence, and mental instability, Hannah is both plagued and uplifted by his nearness, as well as the prying of an officious neighbor, and a nay saying figment of her imagination, known only as The Cowboy.

I expected Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song to focus on Hannah’s spiritual transformation and found that it was more quirky than introspective and not as earth shattering as I hoped. As it was, Hannah came, she lived in a cabin, and she somehow lost her inner Cowboy (thank heavens), but I’m not certain how it came about or the precise catalyst for The Cowboy’s dismissal. Despite all this, there were moments between Hannah and Meadow, mother and daughter, that were breathlessly written, and I could relate to the closeness that can come of that particular familial relationship. I instantly loved Meadow; her youthful curiosity and joie de vivre were endearing and, even when things took a momentarily darker turn, she still stuck fast to my heart.

With so many characters turned authors in this book, I am extremely curious as to which parts, if any, contain hints of the real author, Marylee Daniel Mitcham. How much of her is Rosalie? How much of her children is Meadow? Or vice versa? How much of her characters’ hopes and realizations, are, in fact, her own?

In Counting Down: A Memoir, written by a character named Rosalie, Mitcham fleshes out the story of Hannah and Meadow. It is in this section that Rosalie talks about her and Meadow’s conversion to the LDS church. I enjoyed the ideas she conveyed about Mormonism, theology in general, and the importance of having a personal relationship with God, and a sense of spiritual awareness. Counting Down seemed more contemplative than Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song and, because it dipped its toes in the font of Mormonism, I understood it. It spoke my language.

I love Mitcham’s distinctive use of language and the way she can wring new thoughts from me with a simple phrase. She also has a rare talent for perceiving the divine in the everyday—of noticing the sacred hidden within the secular—which I truly appreciated in her non-fiction book, An Accidental Monk and the Counting Down portion of Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe.

Side note: I would actually recommend reading the novella Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song first, then reading the foreword, followed by Counting Down: A Memoir of Rosalie Wolfe. I found reading them in that order made it easier to work things out in my head.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars   For the sensitive reader: The spiritual themes of Counting Down: A Memoir ran in stark contrast to some of the sexual scenes and language found in Hannah Wolfe’s Blacktime Song. They are there, and though not entirely shocking, still bothered me a bit in the context of the book.

Sum it up: A thoughtful, but quirky, work of fiction that pokes, prods, and compels you to engage in spiritual reflection.

Click here to read Amazon reviews.
If you’d like to learn more about (or purchase) Blacktime Song by Rosalie Wolfe, or read An Accidental Monk online (reviewed here), then visit Mitcham’s blog

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