In Stained Glass a 50s-something reporter, who has been jaded by overexposure to media hype and is cynical about every aspect of his wretched life, is given an assignment by his aging mother to complete the memoir of his great-great-grandfather Christopher Dryden. In the early 1870s Christopher had been sent on a mission to the boisterous Gold Rush town of Barkerville, BC, where a fund-raising campaign to install a stained glass window behind the alter of St. Saviour's Anglican Church (flickr image at right by jmegjmeg) turned into a heated controversy when it was revealed that the anonymous donor, who was covering most of the cost for the painted glass, was none other than the owner of the town's most notorious brothel...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Focal Point

This is turning out to be one of those stories where the author actually enters the novel in disguise. I can't help drawing parallels between Kyle Welland and me. In fact, I would go so far as to say he is in some senses an avatar of Craig Spence.

Right away, though, I am confronted with a problem. My life to date has been interesting, joyful, challenging and many other things, but it hasn't really been the stuff of novels. I could write dozens of short stories based on my experiences, but can't say I've lived through an extended conflict that would hold a reader's attention through, say 300 pages.

Kyle Welland, as the central character in Stained Glass, must do that.

When I stand back from this conundrum a solution presents itself almost immediately. Kyle is standing in for me as the focal point of spiritual confusion in the novel. His life has rendered him perhaps more cynical than me, but the spiritual and emotional turmoil that will be stirred up by his research into the life of Christopher Dryden will parallel in many ways my own ambivalence concerning things religious. I don't see him ending up in the same place as me, but his investigations will turn into a quest, which will be overlaid by the gritty realities of his life.

  • His deteriorating marriage;
  • Disappointment with his son;
  • Cynicism about his career as journalist;
  • Utter despair over the seeming emptiness and meaninglessness of life;
  • The failure of materialism to fill the infinite void;
  • His outrage at what he perceives as flimsy philosophical and theological responses to the kind of spiritual malaise he's suffering.
All of a sudden, because he's promised his mother to flesh out the story of Christopher Dryden, the sediment of his soul gets stirred up, triggering a gut wrenching chemistry of rage, sorrow and disappointment.

Another character is emerging now - the cast of this novel is growing beyond my control! I want to introduce a latter day Anglican priest, who will become a foil for Kyle's resentment and fury. I haven't been able to imagine this character yet, except to say he or she is deeply committed to the Anglican faith, which will place him in the sights of Kyle's bitter and biting humor. He is also a direct spiritual descendant of Christopher Dryden, which tends to turn Kyle's barbs and sarcasm back on himself.

Kyle has pestered this character into reluctantly becoming a researcher's guide into the Anglican faith. In fact, I am tempted to have Kyle trick this character by pretending to be a proselyte. I don't see Kyle and this character ever bridging the gulf between them; but I do see tortured friendship and grudging respect taking root in the hard soil of their spiritual no-man's land.

This priest will do what the servants of God are meant to do: comfort Kyle during an hour of deepest, darkest need.

That this new character and Kyle will never overcome their theological and philosophical differences has become strikingly clear to me upon an initial perusal of The Book of Common Prayer. Although a humbled Kyle can get to a place where he respects those who believe in the type of God predicated by Christianity, he cannot embrace that God himself, but must look for some other spiritual path. I don't see him having an answer by the end of Stained Glass, but do see him energized by a question that he feels must have an answer. That will be Kyle's revelation.

1 comment:

  1. In this context the shattering of the stained glass window at St. Saviour's in the 1870s will signal the decline of Christianity from its European throne. In the post Victorian, post Industrial age the pre-eminence of Christianity will be challenged and it will begin losing its hold on society. Even those who remain Christian will either have to adapt their faith or take a reactionary stance against the conclusions of new science, philosophy and morals. In that sense, Kyle himself is as much a reverberation of that initial tumult as the latter day priest.