Author: Lauren B. Davis

Publisher: Wordcraft of Oregon

ISBN: 9781877655722

Writers who have the temerity to turn their focus on the darker and more dastardly aspects of human behavior face a truly daunting challenge. Their dilemma derives from what is sometimes called the “Satan Paradox.” When John Milton set out to write his 12-book epic Paradise Lost, his aim was to “justify the ways of God to man.” Unfortunately (for him), he began his work by focusing on Satan, just after he’s been cast out of Heaven. Satan’s dark and tortuous new realm – called “Pandemonium” – is rendered thrillingly in Milton’s thickly churned versification. This rebel angel who vows that “it’s better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” absolutely commands the reader’s rapt attention.

But then, Paradise Lost turns its attention to Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden, and, well, to be quite frank, it gets rather boring. All that goodness, all that righteousness. Blah Blah Blah. This is the stuff Milton wants us to get, of course, but most readers can’t help but think “Hey, what happened to Satan? Can’t we have another look at that fiery netherworld of torment and rage? That was pretty cool.”

Fast forward three and a half centuries and writers are still wrestling with the “Satan Paradox.” Case in point: Our Daily Bread, Lauren B. Davis’ latest novel. The book tells the story of a small, God-fearing village called “Gideon,” as well as a clan of highly disreputable “mountain People” who live above Gideon (but far, far below in socio-economic status, or hygienic practice).

Davis gives the reader an early glimpse of the Mountain folk, and brother is it dark. There’s drunkenness, nudity, sodomy, child abuse, disease, meth addiction, whoring, random violence, incest, starvation, and target shooting at both animals and humans. If there’s a modern-day Pandemonium, it can be found in the mountains just north of Gideon.

But then…oh no – not again! – the story turns south, back down the mountain, and for most of the next two hundred pages, we’re wandering through Gideon with its dramatically anodyne townsfolk enduring small-town contretemps. A man’s wife leaves him, and the whispering campaign begins among the gossip-minded Christian community. An antique store owner befriends a young girl who’s being verbally harassed by a couple of mean girls, and they spend their afternoons having tea, polishing the silver, and talking about life. A local boy falls in with an older-brother-type from the mountains, and they spend their time cruising around town in his pickup truck, smoking and eating pizza.

But my mind remained up there in the shadowy shanty-town, with the whiskey bottles flying out the broken widows and the ill-fed urchins fleeing for their lives from their predatory relatives.

Patient readers who share my appetite for literary debauchery will find themselves eventually rewarded with a fiery climax atop the mountain between the stoned and stone-hearted mountain folk and a couple of well-meaning Samaritans who are in over their head that exposes the increasingly seedy underside of these social cast-offs. It’s a suspenseful and well-crafted ending, but for all of its narrative satisfactions, it left me wishing we had spent far more time with these people, who largely remain caricatures because there’s been almost no opportunity to develop their characters.

Our Daily Bread seeks to tell the story of a conflict between two groups of people, but the real conflict I felt was between a mildly-diverting chronicle of small-town life and a devilishly dark world, underdeveloped but primal in its narrative pull.

*Note:  Lauren B. Davis's new novel, OUR DAILY BREAD will be published by Wordcraft in September, 2011. She is also the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, The Radiant City, (HarperCollins Canada 2005) a finalist for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize; The Stubborn Season (Harper Collins Canada, 2002), chosen for the Robert Adams Lecture Series; as well as two collections of critically acclaimed short stories, An Unrehearsed Desire (Exile Editions 2008), and Rat Medicine & Other Unlikely Curatives (Mosaic Press, 2000). Her short fiction has also been nominated for the CBC Literary Awards. Lauren, who was born in Montreal, lived in France for over a decade and now resides in Princeton, where she leads monthly writing workshops.

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