A Reader’s Opinion of Breathing into Stone by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick August 12, 2011Posted by #4 in Everything but the kitchen sink, I read books.
Tags: Arts, Author, Breathing into Stone, God, Italy, Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick, Northern California, novel
I usually live in Northern California but the last four days I have been living in a little village in Italy. It’s name is Resceto.
I was transported back in time to this village, to fall in love with Resceto and it’s residents, by the novel Breathing into Stone by Joel Kirkpatrick; an unpretentious work of staggering beauty and charm.
I know what you are thinking: “well, Joel is your brother – of course you will have nothing but a biased opinion of his work.” and in that you would be wrong. If anything I lay a critical eye upon his words, sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, for the very purpose of seeing flaws. Don’t ask me why for I refuse to know the answer.
I was unprepared for the beauty and strength and passion of his words. I was taken by complete surprise.
It is the job of the author to remain invisible; to stay hidden for the journey so that the reader becomes lost in the story – to forget they are reading words on a page and possibly have other things to tend to. If the author fails at this the reader becomes distracted, realizing they are simply reading and they hold the story and the characters at arms length (no pun intended), refusing to become involved with them and therefore the journey is never taken. To say that I journeyed to Resceto is to say the author succeeded. I became lost in the story. The very reason I read.
Breathing into Stone, only the third novel by Joel, reads with a maturity found only in the greatest works of authors decades into their craft. It is as polished as the marble statues brought so alive in it’s pages that this reader will never view marble the same way again.
If I didn’t know the author any better I would think that he had spent a good portion of his life in the quarries cutting marble and at the feet of the masters learning their trade such is the power of how he draws you to each piece and shows you the life or absence of life contained in the image.
In a novel of this size you would expect to slog through boringly intricate details of scenery and daily life, much like walking through a museum, but those are not present. I have read authors who love to torture with full pages devoted to describing a room and it’s contents, but Breathing only gives you a glimpse; the same you would have if walking into the room yourself before interacting with the characters. You feel instantly at home and comfortable, not waiting for the tour guide to move the group on to the next exhibit.
As for the characters in the story, few are as charming and well known as these become. We don’t need to be given a history of each person to know them and love them (or hate) and understand their actions, much like discovering a new friend and instantly hitting it off with virtually no knowledge of their background. It is not needed. But when we receive a character’s history it is a revelation by the character themselves, a peek into their souls that only enriches the knowledge. The interaction of characters too brings moments of delight such as the frustratingly brief interchanges between the Master sculptor Antonio Lisi and his apprentices, exchanges of dialogue so wonderful as to make you envious of such familiarity.
Although Breathing into Stone is a period novel, 18th century, Joel sprinkles his narrative with contemporary words, silly endearments; yet instead of drawing attention to themselves they add a familiarity to the atmosphere, an intimacy with the characters that would otherwise be missing. History records how past centuries behaved and spoke, but it has failed to record the intimate moments, those shared in private, those endearments created in the moment. Those I believe Joel has uncovered.
It is usually at this point that I would list my disappointments in the novel. Being Christian and having a love for God’s holiness I tend to frown upon or become upset at profanity or graphic sex, but in this novel I was denied my righteous indignation. There are scenes that could be callously described as pornographic or unnecessary to the advancement of the plot but because the characters are so endearing and alive, these scenes become arousing and innocent at the same time. It is not gratuitous. The main character is an innocent and her education is portrayed in this fashion; an awakening.
I have found few writers able to handle the differences between passion and lust because so many people cannot make the distinctions themselves; Breathing exposes the difference in astounding ways. There are sentences so flawless and beautiful they could make a true linguist weep.
I have over a thousand books in my personal library, probably closer to fifteen hundred, and there are only a select few that will remain my favorites, to be pulled down and read many more times. Breathing into Stone will take it’s place among them. It contains moments so wonderful they will follow you for years and when they start to fade, like coming home from a long journey, you will be ready to rest, put your naked feet upon the hearth and enjoy the warmth and renew the friendships.