Author of such novels as Atticus and Mariette in Ecstasy, Ron Hansen believes in the power of stories and in the role that they can play in an examination of a faith-filled life.
The subject matter here covers a wide range, from words (the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Leo Tolstoy’s Master and Man), to film (Babette’s Feast), to martyrs (the six Jesuit priests murdered in El Salvador in 1989), to theological matters (stigmata). Hansen pays tribute to figures who have inspired his own life and writing, including St. Ignatius of Loyola and Hansen’s mentor, writer John Gardner.
Two of the best essays in the book are told through stories from his own family. In "A Nineteenth-Century Man," Hansen writes of his grandfather, a "tough-as-nails, brook-no-gruff Colorado rancher," and of the way that Hansen tries to preserve a connection to his grandfather by writing of the past. A recasting of "The Story of Cain," with Hansen and his twin brother, Rob, reveals how quickly, and without particular passion, anyone could replicate the world’s first murder. In this collection, Hansen shares an important bit of knowledge he has acquired: that the best fiction—indeed, the best stories—provide, in the words of Robert Frost, "a clarification of life...not necessarily a great clarification...but a momentary stay against confusion."
Kimberly Burge, a Sojourners contributing writer, is senior writer/editor at Bread for the World.