The Healing, Indeed

March 21, 2012

“Polly Shine comes on the plantation not only to heal the body, but to heal the soul.”  -Jonathan Odell on the beautiful heroine of his recently released novel, The Healing.

The above quote from Jon’s interview this morning with MPR’s Kerri Miller.

Several years ago I read The View from Delphi by Jonathan Odell, an author who grew up in Mississippi and eventually found his home in Minneapolis, something we have in common.  Elements of that novel were deeply familiar to me and I longed to connect with its writer.  Two years later, I finally hunted him down at The Loft Literary Center.  Being the gracious Southern gentleman he is, he later joined me for coffee and we shared the satisfaction that Mississippians crave in their own special way – connection by abject friendliness and the telling of stories.

That day over coffee was the beginning of a friendship and a continuation of stories I longed to hear, stories of growing up in a place full of both great beauty, terrifying cruelty and the complex continuum between the two.  I found the person I KNEW must have written that novel – a man of huge heart, filled with a zest for life and curiosity of the human spirit, lifted to the light by compassion.

Now as I read his current novel, The Healing, it is no surprise that the characters are rich and strong and complicated.  But what sets apart this novel from everything from The Help to To Kill a Mockingbird, is its complete absence of the very thing it is about – black and white.  Its shades of grey are an old and dense photograph of the flora and fauna that is the garden of mindsets necessary to perpetuate oppression, corrected only by those wise and brave enough to tell the truth.

Bias is an American story of racism, a human story of ignorance and selfishness.  The better we understand the ills of our nature, the less likely we are to continue our past sins.  This novel is required reading for the degree of Doing Better, for the hope of that very Healing.    The MPR interview alone corrected a story I heard throughout my childhood, the Cinderella-like success of Leontyne Price.

Congratulations Jon on the beginning of what I am sure will be a smashing success.

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