It has been a week since I finished reading Mark Beyer’s ‘The Village Wit’ and the story is still lurking in the back of my mind, stirring memories and making me think.
Did I enjoy it? Yes and no. Am I glad I read it? Absolutely. ‘The Village Wit’ is a beautiful story that takes a long, hard look at love. Not the wish-fulfillment fantasy love of a romance novel but the warts and all love that can grow between real people with real lives and real baggage. This book is about love ‘as it is’ rather than as we would like it to be.
The protagonists – Richard and Peggy – are forty-somethings who have both had long term relationships. Richard’s marriage ended in divorce. Peggy’s left her a widow. Neither one is in a hurry to replace the loves they have lost, yet a bookshop brings them together and a spark is ignited. This spark leads to a growing attraction that culminates in some beautifully written but fairly explicit sex scenes. I was a little surprised but not at all offended because every word seemed appropriate and ‘right’. It would be wrong however to think that the consummation of sex was the climax [forgive the pun] of the story. The true climax is purely emotional and traces the demands and expectations we place on those we have come to love.
To be honest the climax and ending sent me back into my own past and made me question whether my perspective back then could have been a little skewed, a little wrong. That kind of introspection is rarely all fun and games, hence my ambivalence about whether I enjoyed the novel or not. In the final analysis, I think I did.
One thing I am certain about however is that Mark Beyer is a very good writer. He presents the story of this relationship from the point of view [pov] of both protagonists without bias. More importantly he does what few male writers are capable of doing – he gets inside Peggy’s skin and makes her real. The book would be worth reading for that if nothing else. As a fledgling writer myself I know how impossibly hard it is to create a believable character of the opposite sex. So hats off to Beyer for pulling off some rather extraordinary characterizations.
And now to a few small things that could have been perfect but were not. As a work of literature Beyer peppered his prose with a great many descriptive passages. Some worked, turning his words into vivid, lyrical prose worthy of a great master but all too often the frequent descriptions and metaphors just fell flat, jerking me out of the story rather than drawing me deeper inside. I honestly feel that in this case, less truly would have been more.
For me, the most beautiful parts of the prose were often the simplest. In these passages, Beyer’s connection to his characters shone through without artifice – pure, clean, honest. This man has a voice that will be heard more and more in the future.