Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ken Kuhlken

Ken Kuhlken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. His novels have been chosen as an Ernest Hemingway Best First Fiction Book, a Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel, and a Shamus Awards Best Novel. The novels are Midheaven and the Tom Hickey California Crime series.

Kuhlken's new Tom Hickey novel is The Good Know Nothing.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Recently I was preparing for a brief vacation during which I might get some reading time. As the vacation would cost plenty without buying books for it, I downloaded free kindle versions of a few classics I had read years ago. The one I'm reading now is Hardy's Tess of the d'Ubervilles.

Early on, I found the wealth of description tried my patience, but since the descriptions were vivid and often witty, I persevered, occasionally wondering if I'd made a bad choice to reread the novel, the suspense of which didn't hold me because I remembered the ending.
Then I notice a theme that drives the novel, which changed my whole outlook. After all, suspense isn't everything.

Here's my attempt to explain the theme:

Tess, in her simplicity and natural innocence, comes from a culture still rooted in an earlier time, when the Christian story and its literal interpretations hadn't yet been called into question by the Enlightenment with its reliance on reason.

Angel Clare, her beloved, is a product of the Victorian era. He's the son of a pastor who approaches the Bible from an intellectual attitude that employs reason but only insofar as it works on behalf of the faith. Angel, even while seeing through the flaw in his father's reasoning, adopts a similarly flawed worldview. He won't believe in Christ or the church, but he firmly accepts the church's morality.

About a dozen years before Tess appeared, Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov presented the notion that without God, all things are lawful. Angel would disagree with this proposition and contend that the morals by which he lives are based upon reason rather than upon Christianity. His rigid devotion to the moral positions of churchgoing society becomes the recipe for disaster.

Now here's why this intrigues me:

I'm looking at the past hundred plus years since the publication of Tess and The Brothers Karamazov as a drama Hardy's novel prophesies, in which our culture attempts to sort out the implications of its morality being grounded in a story it either doubts, ignores, or uses to justify its actions.

I like books that offer stuff to think about, in addition to a compelling story. Tess is a mighty fine book.
Visit Ken Kuhlken's website.

--Marshal Zeringue