I just finished “A Cry of Stone” by Michael D. O’Brien which is part of his loose series “Children of the Last Days”. I have now read all of his fiction except “Island of the World” which I am sure I will get to. As with all of his books I certainly enjoyed it even though an O’Brien novel is usually anything but fast-paced.
A Cry of Stone is the fictional account of the life of a native artist, Rose Wâbos. Abandoned as an infant, Rose is raised by her grandmother, Oldmary Wâbos, in the remotest regions of the northern Ontario wilderness. The story covers a period from 1940 to 1973, chronicling Rose’s growth to womanhood, her discovery of art, her moving out into the world of cities and sophisticated cultural circles.
The reason this book was the last in the series I read is because the basic plot doesn’t sound very enticing. People often name the “Father Elijah” novel as their favorite O’Brien novel and I think partly it is because the apocalyptic plot is so intriguing and such an antithesis to the badly written and never ending Left Behind novels. A Cry of Stone though is now my favorite novel of his even if it does not contain the excitement of “Father Elijah.” O’Brien as a novelist is much like O’Brien the painter and iconographer. Icons portray a spiritual reality seemingly distorted in our eyes full of symbolic meanings. An Icon is not painted overnight and takes time to properly display these symbolic meanings. O’Brien’s novels are much the same in that they are character driven following the main character over their life and you come to feel you really know the person and their spiritual life and this is done with a rich palette.
A Cry of Stone is also for me is O’Brien’s deepest novel and the character Rose Wâbos is so developed that I often felt I was reading more of an autobiography from a saint than I was reading a fictionalized novel. More like I was reading Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”. The story of native Rose Wâbos as she struggle through childhood with a developing deformity and being raised by her grandmother as she develops fully into an artist in her adulthood covers so many stages of her life and really shows life as a pilgrimage. In fact to really sum up the plot in one sentence.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Colossians 1:24
Rose learns to take the many afflictions she has in her life and to unite them with Christ. Though this is a constant struggle even with her deep devotion to Christ as the “beating heart” and really portrays the temptations so common in life and especially in trying to fully live the spiritual life. Often this book led me to a sort of contemplative novel reading where I was so often drawn back during my day into thinking about the spiritual life and prayer at a deeper level.
Though it is not only the main character Rose who you come to know and love. There is a landscape of rich characters throughout the novel. No not characters, bigger than life — but ones full of life. Her grandmother, the teacher, the artist couple, the doll making sisters, and so forth are more than just plot devices, but people you come to care about and once again drawing you away from just reading a novel. There are common O’Brien elements within such as the anti-religous bureaucrats and the attitudes from others that Christianity is something for the past and that secularism is king. Criticism of the art world and so-called modern art is another thread shared by other novels in this series. This is certainly an area where I am fully in agreements with O’Brien’s criticisms.
The title of this novel also has a meaning at several levels and is a theme throughout. Even as you come to find the title in it’s explicit meaning — you also see how it is a common thread.
I am also reviewing the Audiobook version of this novel. At about 33 hours this Audiobook put out by Ignatius Press is an unabridged version of the 800 plus page novel. Kevin O’Brien of Theatre of the Word once again has done the reading for Ignatius Press. I have been quite impressed with Kevin’s work and the other Audiobooks I have recently reviewed he did. He has surpassed himself with this reading though. If I had the power to give Kevin the Oscar for his performance I would. I’ve listened to a fair amount of Audiobooks and Kevin’s various voices go beyond what I have heard in the past. When Rose is being drawn to prayer or crying out, Kevin does his best work and like the novel itself I feel a real person doing this. His voice for the artist who becomes a father to Rose is also especially deserving of praise and adds a perfect dimension to the man portrayed as if obviously this would be the voice of that character. I am not saying this just because Kevin was nice enough to send me some of his narration work he did for Ignatius Press.
The audiobook version is available at Ignatius Press for download.
Note: The Audiobook length on Ignatius Press’ site is 8:24:17. I don’t know if that is an error of if this was an abridged version. Of course they also have the paper copy and ebook versions of this book.