Sunday, February 3, 2013

Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Fred Chappell

Brighten the Corner Where You Are: A NovelBrighten the Corner Where You Are: A Novel by Fred Chappell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brighten The Corner Where You Are is a novel about Joe Robert Kirkman, a farmer who lives in the mountains of North Carolina. Joe Robert teaches. Teaching is something he is forced to do because he needs the money, but it is also something he's good at. Fred Chappell's book is about a single day during which this storytelling prankster's event filled life pushes him into situations where his humor, imagination, and capacity to think makes the lives of the people around him better. At the same time Brighten The Corner Where You Are takes on deeper issues about the responsibilities of educators.

The book starts out with a prologue about Joe Robert and his son walking in the early morning toward their barn to feed and milk their cows. It's not dark, because the moon is huge. In fact the moon is so big that it is overbearing. So Joe Robert takes it down and places it in one of the steel containers he has for the milk. Joe's son, who is also the story's narrator, is horrified by this action and convinces his father to put the moon back where it belongs. This first part of the novel is what I would call magical realism, while what happens after that is more along the lines of exaggerated story telling. But whatever label is used, the writing is beautiful and works on multiple levels.

On the surface the story is about a teacher who knows he will have to face the school board that day, because he's been accused of teaching something improper. He's nervous about his upcoming trial and wants to make a good impression, but events keep tumbling his way that bruise his body and dirty his clothing. Still, he keeps moving forward through his day.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way it covers the Creationism vs. Darwinism argument. Kirkman seems to be saying that the actual argument is not whether people were created by God in the exact form they are in today or descended from another type of primate. The real argument is can people have the complete truth revealed to them or do they need to constantly search for truth, getting closer and closer to the goal but never quite reaching it. There are also multiple incidents in the book that make Joe Robert question what he does for a living. One of those incidents makes him wonder if the desire for knowledge is the cause of pain, while others argue against that simplistic answer.

Brighten The Corner Where You Are is perfect for readers who like books that are fun to read, but still cover complex issues.

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