Danny Gospel, by debut novelist David Athey – where to begin? Such an unusual book, no quick descriptions come to mind.
Danny, a character so intricate, it’s hard to put a label on him. A young man who has suffered greater loss than most of us ever will, and all he longs for, literally prays for, is ‘a normal, happy life.’ Yet he believes it to be elusive, out of his reach.
Awakened by the kiss of a woman clad in white, who vanishes, he relentlessly pursues her, believing she’s been sent by God; if he can only find her, that ‘normal, happy life’ might be within his grasp.
As the story moves back and forth, we catch glimpses of where he’s come from – a farming family who never had much, and gave gospel concerts at local fairs, revivals, or wherever the opportunity presented itself. The Gospel family, whose name isn’t even that, but their deep, abiding faith, presented as a testimony in their concerts, earns them that name. Danny’s parents and siblings are complicated, yet amazingly simple. As tragedy engulfs him again and again, there’s not much left of Danny, mentally, physically or emotionally. Author Athey has scooped up what is left, and created a character with so many layers, wounds hard to bear up to. As a reader I found myself climbing onboard for the ride Danny takes, literally and emotionally as he gallantly, clumsily tries to gather up the remnants of his life, cheering for him all the way.
I could not identify with the many losses the Gospel family bears up to, but there were moments, scenes that brought me back to my own life, my ‘losses’, where I could identify, step back and observe a bit. Doesn’t all good writing make us do that a bit – take a look inward? Athey’s writing is beautiful, quiet, poetic, strange. There are no pat answers given here, rather I found myself reading, then rereading to pull out the meaning of passages, to get to know these characters better.
Other characters shared along the way are quirky, odd, eccentric – all a perfect fit for Danny as he flings himself into his search for the life he longs for. He takes steps forward, then back, as he pours everything into this search. He’s more of an underdog than a hero, but I found myself so wanting him to come out triumphant. Alas, while I won’t spoil it, there is no tidy ending here, but just as I should have expected, something complex, unclear. Something I’ve found myself mulling over, days after I turned the last page of this soulful read.
Bev shares whatever’s on her heart at Scratchin’ the Surface, when she doesn’t have her nose in a book, or isn’t on the phone with someone in her family.