In Brain Holers’ novel, Doxology, Vernon Davidson is so used to his isolation from family and his faith that he hardly notices how disconnected he has become from his last living brother until Leonard is facing death. Now that his brother lies in a hospital bed he’ll never leave, Vernon realizes all that he could have shared with Leonard was forfeited when he retreated into his own pain and suffering. Though he loves his brother, Vernon is of the generation that feels it’s not necessary or perhaps manly to say it or show it. Both men begin to understand the depth of their brotherly love when Leonard asks Vernon to bring his sons home before he dies.
Jody is the first nephew Vernon contacts, and the uncle leaves it to him to find and persuade his younger brother, Scooter, to see his father before it is too late. Jody’s been in the position of standing as protector of his younger brother, as long as he can remember. Of fixing things and situations for Scooter. And he considers himself an abject failure in that effort.
Scooter’s smarter, more talented and better looking than his older brother, everything coming so easily to him that he never had to make an effort. He’s always been a bit disconnected from life, his interest focused on anything except what’s happening around him. This distance extends to his family, with Scooter playing observer to their lives together, rather than forging any real connection. He moves through life following some rhythm heard only by him, leaving Jody to deal with the consequences of his brother’s actions. The younger brother has no interest in reuniting with the father he so terribly disappointed. Living within driving distance of his father, he’s never made an effort to reconnect.
Jody persuades Scooter to return to his hometown, but that visit lasts only long enough to spend a few minutes with his father before he runs away again. Scooter’s never found what he needs in his own family and he has no wish to search for it in his birthplace. He prefers to continue hiding from life within the community he’s taken up with, still looking for a replacement for the mother he lost at birth.
Vernon finds in the death journey of his brother, Leonard, a reminder of all his family members who have passed on, especially his son Billy, and his and Leonard’s older brother Pearl. As Leonard’s life runs out,Vernon’s memories replay how he and his brothers received the emotional wounds that shaped both their lives. If he’s never stopped to take a good look at the cruelty his father practiced against his brothers in the name of fatherly responsibility, he’s forced to face it now and to question the circumstances that shaped his own father’s life. He begins to see fully the thread that connects each of the remaining men in his family with the men who came before.
Vernon makes an effort to step off his self-destructive path long enough to grant his brother’s wish, and to be there for his nephews. Soon, however, he falls back into his personal nightmare of drinking, showing his contempt for the God who took his son through his naked taunting of the neighboring church community. The vile concoction he doses his emotional pain with is more punishment to his physical body than pleasure or release from his loss.
Vernon and Jody shoulder the worries and care of seeing their brother and father to his final rest. In the process, they each find a new strength in supporting each other. While both dread their coming loss, they find a deeper relationship built on understanding the paths their lives have taken.
Somehow, letting Leonard go has opened Vernon’s heart to forgive God for the losses and pain in his own life. And in the goodbyes between the older men, Jody learns family secrets that change his perspective of both men.
Each of Holer’s characters is lost in recriminations for past sins and failures. Each man is attempting to fill a hole in his life, having no idea where to seek answers. Each has suffered horrible loss and allowed that loss to shape who they have become. Only two of them take a hard look at where they have been and where they want to be, and take the first painful steps into that place.
The author shapes his characters with love and respect. In writing of the Southern world in which these men reside, he avoids the use of dialect. Instead, he skillfully builds the cadence of life particular to the rural South with words pictures of that slower lifestyle. His characters meander through the telling of slow, roundabout tales, always interrupted with side forays to detail the family connections of everyone in that story. Friends, as well as strangers, visit through the open window of dusty pickups, lean on a broom or shovel throughout a conversation because the work will still be there after all the local news is exchanged. The reader longs to be sipping the sweet iced tea in the afternoon heat, to smell the smoke from the local barbeque pit before diving into a plate of tender ribs, or to taste the yeasty beer or sharp slide of whiskey across the tongue after the sun goes down.
Brian Holer says he has written a Christian novel. He has actually written a novel for everyone who has suffered heartbreak and loss and forged a painful path through it to the light. And for everyone still hoping that path exists.
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