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The first item on the Better World Books 2016 Reading Challenge is […]
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"The Stonemason" is a profoundly moving drama set in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1970s, concerning several generations of a black family. McCarthy's narrator, Ben, reveals a painful episode in his family's history, grounding us at the same time in the beautiful dynamic between him and his grandfather, Papaw. Ben, Ben's father, and Papaw are all stonemasons, but in descriptions of "the trade" we learn as much about this family's capacity for love as we do about constructing sound foundations for houses, barns and bridges.
Papaw's knowledge about stonemasonry is analogous to his deep spiritual wisdom, and Ben recognizes both as he looks back on his apprenticeship in the "trade at which I thought myself a master and of which I stood in darkest ignorance. And as I came to know him ... As I came to know him ... Oh I could hardly believe my good fortune. I swore then I'd cleave to that old man like a bride. I swore he'd take nothing to his grave."
Papaw's son Big Ben and great-grandson Soldier do not respond as whole-heartedly to the old man's wealth of knowledge and patient guidance and the tragedy of the story is largely rooted in this fact. Both of these characters have lost connection with the work of their hands and by association with the earth, their family, and themselves. They are profoundly dissatisfied. Of his father, Ben later wonders, "Why could he not see the worth of that which he had laid aside and the poverty of all he hungered for? Why could he not see that he too was blest?"
"The Stonemason" reveals afresh the mastery of character, plot, pathos, and the poetic facility for language that distinguishes Cormac McCarthy's fiction, and which recently earned him the National Book Award for his bestselling novel, "All The Pretty Horses."
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