Carlene Bauer: Frances and Bernard – An epistolar gem

Stellar! What a bold and special gem!

Inspired loosely by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell and written in the form of correspondence between fictional novelist Frances and poet Bernard, it broaches various subjects of the mind and spirit. In these efforts, the book dares to be almost inaccessibly intellectual (at least for the common reader, if there is such a thing), to the point of snobbery with philosophical and cultural namedropping. Personally, I found this intellectual elitism nothing short of encouraging and constructively provocative. It dared to approach religious themes without the sickening irony and sarcasm of postmodernist authors, as well as without their opposite pole, the almost blue-collarish treacle of what is called “Christian” literature.

Though not necessarily an inspirational book, the lovely discipline, smart humor, and absolutely crispy and flavorful language of this writing, with remarkably astute observations about the intellectuals’ struggle for/in faith, make it sufficiently profound to please thinkers drawn to the affairs of God, as well.

What I perceived as a sweet lightness in the first part, lending it that nice but naughty feel I so love in erudite authors, was aptly turned into a heartrending drama in the second part, leading to a realistic postlude, though without any preceding culmination, on what any relationship with this fervor inevitably has to face.

The choice of the timeframe was perfect for the tone in which a book like this should be written. I’ll be re-reading this soon for the sheer pleasure of its exquisite language.

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