9 Books That Examine The Beauty Of Resurrection, Reinvention, And Rebirth
Starting over is one of the great privileges of life. I try to press restart in some way almost every single day; in fact, just this morning I attempted to turn over a new leaf by actually getting up when the alarm went off instead of snoozing for my usual 30 to 45 minutes.
Resurrection, on the other hand, is a far more precious phenomenon. I feel the power of something big starting over when the crocuses start to poke their purple heads through as the ground first clears of snow and the robins return to the yard. The awesome power of life returning after so much death is a joy so overwhelming I find myself smiling involuntarily and adding a skip to my step. After all, it's one thing to aim for an earlier start to each day, but it's quite another to see those soft, green fronds unfurling on so many naked branches, breathing life and beauty back into the world.
We celebrate the joys of starting anew all the time, with graduation and New Years Eve, with back to school shopping and first days of work. Rarely, however, do we stop to celebrate the awesome beauty of resurrection, reinvention, and rebirth. So, with Easter just around the corner and spring now having arrived, let's think about it a little deeper with these 11 books that channel the theme.
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
A tragic and sudden death is the hidden beating heart of this strange, idiosyncratic tale of new life. As a childless couple bring a new nanny into their home for a baby that has yet to be born, mother- and nanny-to-be wrestle with the awesome power of starting again. Moore takes every opportunity to explore the absurdity of the idea that you can ever truly reinvent yourself, whether or not you make it back from the dead.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Mara
Anthony Mara's exquisite tale of survival throughout the brutal and savage years of the Chechen war is both intricate and blunt, and cold as ice and warm as the hearts that struggle for life both physical and spiritual. Death strikes a blow on the very first page, and the rest of the tale takes up the struggle of resurrection both personal and cultural. From the sterile halls of the one remaining hospital in the area to a home in the heart of a frozen forest, Mara's characters fight every day to make their way out of hell, and to watch them slowly come to life again is to experience beauty in its purest form.
Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
Susanna Daniel's Sea Creatures takes up the tale of a young mother desperate for a new start on the heels of scandal, disappointment, and one hell of a sleep disorder. Taking up refuge in Miami, Georgia finds herself in the employ of a reclusive artist who changes her life in ways she could never have possibly imagined. Daniel's taut, intimate prose is the perfect reminder that sometimes resurrection comes when you didn't even know how far gone you were.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Tracing a ragged route from life to death and back again, Lila's story is one of reluctant resurrection in the warm embrace of belonging after so many years alone. As Lila delicately untangles the threads of her existence, warmth and light creep into the picture and slowly a new life emerges. With unwavering emotional honesty and fierce insight, Robinson's Lila captures the essence of resurrection in all its messy glory.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Metaphorical resurrection litters the pages of Steinbeck's American epic, most notably in the crossing of the Colorado river, which signifies a grand rebirth in the Edenic garden of the west. A powerful story of starting again in the wake of complete and utter loss, The Grapes of Wrath is also the archetypal immigrant tale, which serves as the perfect reminder that resurrection in all its forms might just be far more common than we like to think.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
The Ántonia of Cather's My Ántonia suffers many deaths amidst the rolling hills and rough manners of the great plains. Struggling to start anew time and time again, as Ántonia works her way back from the brink she reminds us that rebirth comes at a cost and starting again does not always mean starting fresh. Shot through with strength and fortitude, Cather's story is the perfect reminder that sometimes the only second chance we get is the one we fashion for ourselves through sheer force of will. Anyone waiting on a miracle to bring them back from the depths of hell could take a lesson from Ántonia.
White Fang by Jack London
Jack London's White Fang takes on the world of life and death through the eyes of a wolf-dog in the crystalline world of the great white North. Following White Fang from the nurturing warmth of his mother to the cold, harsh world of men, White Fang's story is one of continual rebirth culminating in a dramatic renewal well worth waiting for.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Beginning with a hideous explosion and the radical transformation of two angels, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses offers the only story of literal resurrection to make this list — and what a story it is. Rushdie is a master of magical realism, and nowhere does the form find better use than in this evocative and inventive narrative of new life after death.
Look at Me by Jennifer Egan
A dramatic car crash, a life-saving surgery, a face no one can recognize any longer? Those sound like the makings of a resurrection story anyone could love. With dark humor and an eye to the macabre, Jennifer Egan brings to life an absurdist noir that highlights the many risks of coming back to life in an entirely new form.
Image: Miguel Benitez/Flickr