North Carolina Writers

 

One of the reading challenges I have participated in this year is the 2020 #mmdchallenge (The Modern Mrs. Darcy, aka Anne Bogel) which includes twenty-four different challenges. One of these challenges is to read a book by a local author. Bogel, a Kentucky native, posted a list of Kentucky authors a few weeks ago, so I am going to present a list of North Carolina authors. Though not exhaustive (we have quite a few writers to be proud of), here’s a few of my favorites.

The book I intend to read for this challenge is Down the River by John Hart. This will be my first book by Hart though he has written several thrillers set in North Carolina. Born in Durham, Hart is also one of the many lawyers turned writer who are putting out books today. This particular book was a Barry Award nominee and an Edgar Award winner in 2008.

Robert Morgan is a poet and author with many books and awards to his credit. I’ve read Gap Creek twice which won the North Carolina Literature Award as well as the James G. Hanes Poetry Prize. This “story of a marriage” takes place in the mountains at the end of the 19th century. Julie Harmon works hard–“hard as a man” and she needs to in order for the couple to survive. Morgan is a wonderful storyteller, and two other books I can recommend are The Road from Gap Creek and Brave Enemies.

 

Wiley Cash has written several best-sellers and serves as writer-in-residence at UNC-Asheville. I wrote a review of The Last Ballad  https://pmgilmer.com/2018/01/04/wiley-cash-the-last-ballad/  a couple of years ago. The Last Ballad is also a book I’ve read twice–the second time when my library group selected it for that month’s read. The book tells the true story of woman, Ella May Wiggins, who tried to help form unions for the textile industry in 1929. Her courage and determination to help herself, her family, and others like her makes for a gripping read.

A native of Asheville, Sarah Addison Allen writes sweet, romantic family dramas with a bit of magical realism. Her first book, Garden Spells, tells the story of the Waverly women who are guardians of an apple tree that contains strange and magical properties. Drawing on her grandmother’s culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business. When her sister returns home, her young daughter in tow, Claire’s quiet, ordered life is turned around–but in a good way.

I’ve loved the characters and relationships in all of Allen’s books. This quote from First Frost is a good example of their personalities. “Oh, please. Everyone in this town always says that like you have to be born here to understand things. I understand plenty. You’re only as weird as you want to be.”

Charles Frazier is best known for his first novel, Cold Mountain, the story of a Confederate soldier making his way home after the war. That story was based on stories from Frazier’s great-great-great grandfather as well as local stories and legends. It’s been several years since I read this one, but I remember the capitivating narrative told in a beautiful way.

Another book I enjoyed by Frazier was Thirteen Moons. As a “bound” boy, twelve-year old Will Cooper is sent to run an trading post in Cherokee territory. He becomes friends with Bear, a Cherokee chief, and is adopted into his tribe. Frazier writes descriptively of the time period, the scenery, and the growth and adventures of Will.

“What I wanted to do was slap him down a bit with wit and word. Grammar and vocabulary as a weapon. But what kind of world would it be if we all took every opportunity presented to us to assault the weak?”

One more author I will mention–Ron Rash, a poet, short-story writer, and novelist who was born in South Carolina and teaches at Western Carolina University. I’ve read several poems and stories by Rash as well as his novel The Cove though he is better known for his novel, Serena, which was also made into a movie.

The Cove takes place near the town of Mars Hill in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina during the time of the Great War (or WWI). A young woman, Laurel, lives with her brother, Hank, who has recently returned from fighting in France. Laurel finds a man in the woods nearly dead from yellow jacket stings. Mute, the man carries only a silver flute and a note saying his name is Walter and he is on his way to New York. Walter also carries a secret which may prove a threat to Laurel and Hank as the war in Europe is coming to an end.

As with Frasier and Cash, Rash is able to bring you back in time and to another place and helping you to understand a little part of history.

Any other North Carolina writers you would like to recommend? Or your favorite one from another state?

 

 

Books I’m Reading–August 2020

My book reviews have been sporadic at best. Okay, all my posts have been sporadic. Anyway, I wanted to highlight a few books I’ve read recently in no particular order.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson, a songwriter and storyteller, is part memoir and part encouragment for all who desire to imitate our Creator with their art for His glory. Peterson uses his personal story of how he persevered to establish himself as a songwriter and more specifically how he came to write the album “Behold the Lamb” to illustrate how we can use our talents and gifts for worship and to encourage the church.

“Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do.

 

In Introverts in the Church Adam S. McHugh discusses how introverts can feel out of place in not only our extroverted world, but specifically in the extroverted church. If you’ve ever come late to church to avoid the meet and greet, you know what I’m talking about. Of course, the current pandemic has put a stop to such intrusions but there are other ways introverts can be uncomfortable or never have a chance to speak and share.

Understanding the differences in people–the way they serve and the way they worship–is important for everyone in the church. We should be careful not to think our ways are best and be dismissive of others.

The chapter on “Introverted Evangelism” highlighted several problems I’ve always had with most of the standard ways I’ve been taught on how to evangelize. “My understanding of evangelism shifted dramatically when I began to view my role not as initiating spiritual conversations but rather as responding to the ways that God is already at work in people around me.”

In many evangelical churches, entering the sanctuary is not a time of reflection and awe but more a time of greeting your friends and catching up on the past week’s events. For most introverts, a time of quiet is needed to enter into the heart of worship. “When introverts enter into worship, we are apt to come trembling before a God whose mysterious otherness often reduces us to silent awe. We want to hear God’s voice which comes to us more often in whispers than in triumphant shouts.”

Also recommend Susan Cain’s Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a work of historical fiction that takes place in Korea and Japan in the early part of the twentieth century. I first read this a year or so ago, and am rereading on audio for my library book club this month. “Sprawling family dramas” that cover several generations as well as history I’m unfamiliar with make this a book I’m glad to be able to reread. Sunja is a young girl in Korea who falls for a wealthy businessman from Japan. When she refuses to become his mistress, the consequences for herself and her son follow her throughout her life. The history of Korea being occupied by Japan and how difficult it was for the Koreans both before and after the war (WWII) is a part of history I was unfamiliar with and Lee is excellent in painting the atmosphere of the time. Pachinko received several literary awards and was National Book Award Finalist for Fiction in 2017.

 

 

The Confessions of X–Book Review

Winner of Christianity Today’s fiction award in 2017, The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe is historical fiction based on the life of an unknown woman loved by Augustine of Hippo, an early church father. Wolfe first heard of this woman when she was only twelve, and when she asked for the woman’s name was told, “No one knows. She is lost to history.” This stayed with Wolfe through the years and with research and beautiful writing, she has brought the unnamed woman to life along with Augustine and their son.

Being of a lower social status than Augustine, he took “X” as his concubine but could not marry her. Lest you think that made her lesser in his eyes, Augustine wrote of her in Confessions: “the woman with whom I had been living was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage and this blow crushed my heart to bleeding because I loved her dearly.” As Wolfe explains in her author’s note, “To be labeled a concubine was not a derogatory term in the ancient world and was often inscribed on tombstones as a title to denote the status of the deceased.”

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a touch of romance.

Favorite Reads of ’18

One of my first reads of 2018, The Snow Child is a lovely retelling of a Russian fairy tale taking place in Alaska.

The Beautiful Mystery is Louise Penny’s eighth Inspector Gamache mystery. The whole book takes place at a secluded monastery in the wilderness of Quebec.

 

 

Rabbit Cake has a ten-year old protagonist whose mother drowned while sleepwalking. Sounds depressing, I know, but this is a delightful book. Favorite quote:

“That was what her rabbit cakes were about, celebrating every small good thing in your life. I know most families don’t celebrate every new moon or every solstice and equinox, but maybe they should. You never know when someone you love will shoot themselves in the middle of their own birthday party, or be found dead in another state, caught in a river dam, so everyone might as well have their cake right now.”

Beartown: About hockey, love, hope, tragedy, friendship, and loyalty in a small town where everyone knows everybody and everyone is affected by another’s hurt. “Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.

 

 

 

The Queen of Hearts: Two women who became best friends in medical school are now practicing medicine and raising their families in Charlotte, NC. A doctor from their past comes to Charlotte and secrets better left buried come to surface.

Magpie Murders: A mystery within a mystery by a writer who not only writes spy novels and mysteries but also television dramas such as “Foyle’s War” and “Midsomer Murders.”

Dissolution: First of the Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries. Henry VIII has ordered the dissolution of monasteries. Informers abound and a murder soon takes place. Well-written historical fiction as well as a mystery. Looking forward to continuing this series.

Assassin’s Quest: Third in what was originally called The Farseer Trilogy. Has since grown to several more books but start with the first: Assassin’s Apprentice. Nobody builds fantasy worlds and develops characters better than Hobb.

Sorcerer to the Crown: First in a new fantasy series. Takes place in Victorian England. Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and the new Sorcerer Royal, must find out why England’s magic is drying up. Bonus: there’s a dragon. Second book coming out in March.

A good year for reading! Looking forward to many more in 2019. How about you? What were your favorites in ’18? Which books are you excited about in 2019?

Happy New Year!

 

Quick Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Time for a random book review! I’ve read several good books already in 2018, so I’ll start my reviews with the latest from Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is well known for his Sharpe series as well as Uthred in the Saxon Stories. Though still historical fiction, Fools and Mortals is a bit of a departure from his normal writing. Here, Cornwell gives us a behind the scenes look at Shakespeare and his company as they attempt to make a living putting on plays during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. 

Richard Shakespeare is a struggling actor, overshadowed by his older brother William. Richard is approached about stealing a manuscript from his brother (original plays are quite valuable). Since William refuses to give Richard any manly parts in his plays (Richard is quite good at playing the parts of women), this is tempting for him on several levels.

Having just learned about the page 69 test (https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/have-you-ever-tried-the-page-69-test.html), let me read to you from page 69 and you can decide if this book is for you.

“I thought he would say more, but he went back to his writing. A red kite sailed past the window and settled on the ridge of a nearby tiled roof. I watched the bird, but it did not move. My brother’s quill scratched. ‘What are you writing?’ I asked.

‘A letter.’

‘So the new play is finished?’ I asked.

‘You heard as much from Lord Hunsdon.’ Scratch scratch.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’

‘Your memory works. Good.’

‘In which I’ll play a man?’ I asked suspiciously.

His answer was to sigh again, then look through a heap of paper to find one sheet, which he wordlessly passed to me. Then he started writing again.”

Does this excerpt from page 69 intrigue you? Since this book started a little slow for me, maybe this would have been a better place to start–but, no, I believe the beginning was necessary.

You can listen (or read) an interview from Cornwell done by the Folger Shakespeare Library on the writing of this book.

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/bernard-cornwell-fools-and-mortals

Cornwell does not seem to have any plans to turn this into a series, but I, for one, would be glad to read more of Richard Shakespeare if he should changest his mind.

 

Wiley Cash: The Last Ballad

Looking to read more from local (North Carolina or anywhere in southeast) writers, I picked up the latest from Wiley Cash a few weeks ago.

The Last Ballad tells the story of Ella May Wiggins, a woman who worked in the textile mills of North Carolina in the 1920’s. In 1929, she leaves Bessemer City to go to Gastonia to hear about the union and their plans to strike. Ella May works hard every night, having to leave her four children (the father of her children has abandoned them). Joining a union is dangerous and will probably lose her her job, but what choice does she have? Her children are hungry and she can’t afford to clothe them. Something has to change.

Wiley Cash is a writer that any writer would envy. He writes of hard times, desperate situations, evil and selfish people with poetry and grace. He takes a woman who lived in an impossible situation and shows her courage and determination. I highly recommend this book, and will be checking out the backlist for Wiley Cash.

For those of you who read ebooks, this book is available for $1.99 across the different vendors for a limited time.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading from your local authors? Who are your favorites?

Dorothy L. Sayers: Apologist and Mystery Writer

“I always have a quotation for everything; it saves original thinking.” Dorothy Sayers.

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) wore many hats, but it is the labeling her as “apologist and mystery writer” by one article which makes me smile, and I believe would amuse her as well.

Born at Oxford, the only child of the Rev. Henry Sayers, she won a scholarship to Somerville College (a college of Oxford, started specifically for women). She graduated in 1915 with first class honors in modern languages.

She wrote her first “Lord Peter Wimsey” mystery, Whose Body?, while working at a London advertising firm. She went on to write several novels and short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The books are still being published today and many of her readers are unaware of her many other accomplishments.

Sayers considered her best work her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Sayers was 51 when she first read the Divine Comedy, and she became consumed with it. “I bolted my meals, neglected my sleep, work, and correspondence, drove my friends crazy . . .” Deciding to make a fresh translation of his work, she learned the Italian necessary, and the translation remains in print.

Of all her writings, it is concerning a particular play–The Man Born to be King–I want to write about today. She wrote her first play, The Zeal of Thy House, for the Canterbury Festival. She then wrote six more plays including The Man Born to be King. I read this play over ten years ago, and have decided to reread it this year as part of my “Christmas reading.”

This play was originally written for the BBC for broadcasting in the children’s hour. Sayers’ depiction of Christ has him speaking in modern English (since her audience would hardly know Greek) which caused a great outcry of protests. Didn’t she know Jesus (and all those around him) spoke in King James English? One newspaper editor put it this way: “In quoting the Bible we must take the Authorized Version, and not the interpretation of scholars, however wise.” Sayers response: “Of this singular piece of idolatry I will only say that it imposes difficulties upon the English playwright from which the Greek tragic poets are free.” She further explains that as the Incarnation really happened–meaning God became a man and lived among common, ordinary people–he, consequently, spoke a common, ordinary language.

This speaks to me as a writer as I have been wrestling with criticism concerning some of my dialogue. Some say my dialogue sounds too modern, and I wonder if they’re expecting King James English (the Authorized Version) as well? I understand the characters shouldn’t sound like 21st century Americans, but I do not know the Hebrew language and do not believe my characters spoke in any superior sort of way. The whole point of writing about Biblical characters is to remind us that they were real people and not merely “characters.” The sons of King David, though sons of a king, were also shepherds and warriors. Yes, David was a poet and a song writer, but does anyone really think he went around speaking poetically to his sons? Or that Solomon spoke in proverbs in his every day life?

When Sayers wrote her play, she wanted her audience to remember also that these characters did not know what they were doing. “We are so much accustomed to viewing the whole story from a post-Resurrection, . . .point of view, that we are apt, without realising it, to attribute to all the New Testament characters the same kind of detailed theological awareness which we have ourselves. We judge their behavior as though all of them–disciples, Pharisees, Romans, and men-in-the-street–had known with Whom they were dealing . . . But they did not know it.”

Sayers goes on to explain that when we show how real the people were who “made vulgar jokes about Him, called Him filthy names, taunted Him, . . .”, we are shocked, and we should be. However, when we pretty up the language and think of it all as in a culture and people far removed from us, we are not quite as shocked and do not see ourselves as those very people (as we should). “It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.”

In the same way, I wish for people who read my stories to see themselves in these Bible characters. To understand that we are just as sinful, just as fallen, and just as in need of a Savior. If a reader does not relate to the characters as people like themselves, they will only view the stories as just that–stories.

I’m looking forward to rereading these plays with a new eye than when I read them before. If you want to join along, please comment and let me know!

“The only Christian work is good work, well done.” Dorothy L. Sayers

 

“My Name is Absalom” Part Seven (and the End) by P.M. Gilmer

If you still haven’t read part six of this story, here is the link:

https://pmgilmer.com/2017/09/01/my-name-is-absalom-part-6-by-p-m-gilmer/

And now for the conclusion of “My Name is Absalom.”

 

I woke well before the sun on the morning of my planned dinner. I tried to eat some bread before I tended to my duties, but anticipation kept my stomach rolling. My plans were all falling into place though I did encounter one unforeseen problem: the early return of my mother. I had expected her to stay with her father for another month or so, but two days ago, I received word of her return. Fortunately, Tamar had stayed with our grandfather.

My mother heard (naturally) of the dinner I planned and of my invitation to my father (who had, predictably, declined). She knew me well enough to be suspicious of my show of generosity, but as I refused her commands to come visit her, she had no chance to question me. I’m not saying she would have disapproved of my plan, but she hated to be left out of anything, and I’m sure if I let her know what I was doing, she would demand a front row seat. Her drama I could live without. This was my revenge, and she would just have to hear of it second-hand.

I reminded my servants of their roles until satisfied each one was prepared to play their part. Under my directions, they had put up a tent the day before and were now bringing in a table, cushions, and whatever else should be necessary to make everything ready for this evening. All I needed to do now was continue to oversee the preparations and to wait. Waiting can be difficult, but when you know what you’ve been waiting for is truly about to happen, the waiting becomes a sort of deliciousness.

I tried to rest during the heat of the afternoon, but my excitement was too great for either my body or my mind to settle. I rechecked everything again–made sure my knives were sharpened to a keen edge, counted the skins of wine, and made sure (again) that my servants–Ramiah and Kedar–knew where each brother was to sit. Nothing would be left to chance.

Finally, the sun began to fall through the sky, leaving bright red and orange splashes in its wake. The first of my brothers arrived–Ithream and Adonijah, followed by Solomon and Shammua. I gave them all hearty greetings, making sure my servants seated them properly and served them some wine. In a matter of minutes, all my brothers and a few of our cousins had arrived with the exceptions of Amnon and Jonadab. Jonadab knew to wait until the others had time to arrive before he brought Amnon here. It would not do for them to be the first to arrive. No, let Amnon see his brothers already settled, so that he, too, could settle in and be comfortable.

I waited by the door, along with Kedar, trying to hide my increasing anxiety. What if Jonadab couldn’t convince Amnon to come? After all, Amnon knows me as well as anyone, and, truly, he would be a fool to trust me. I could only hope that imbecile, Jonadab, could convince him of my sincerity in wanting to heal the rift between us. The very thought made me gag. Jonadab would need to be pretty convincing in his deceit, but he was good at that.

Then–I saw them. Walking together, Jonadab seemed to be his usual animated self while Amnon walked silently beside him. My brothers behind me were in a boisterous mood, but I hardly heard them as I kept my eyes on my prize. Then I looked over at Kedar who was also watching the two coming towards us.

“Is it him?” he asked quietly.

“Yes,” I murmured. “You already know the loud-mouth next to him, but the other is Amnon.”

When they were close enough to make out their faces, Kedar raised an eyebrow and looked at me. “He is much like you–your brother.”

My face tightened, and I nodded. Yes, people often commented on that. Though we had different mothers, our eyes and facial features were quite similar, and many people could only tell us apart by our hair. My hair was often compared to a lion’s mane because of its thickness and rapid growth while Amnon kept his lighter colored hair cut short, almost shaven. Though I could see it was now much longer than usual, it still was nothing compared to mine.

I plastered a huge smile on my face as Jonadab and Amnon approached us. Amnon seemed to shrink back at the sight of me, but Jonadab kept a firm grip on his elbow and kept him moving forward.

“Brother!” I called out, then pulled Amnon to me in a tight hug. “It has been too long!”

“Amnon has missed being with his brothers, Absalom,” Jonadab said in a loud voice. “We are both grateful for this invitation.”

“Well, come on in. Ramiah will show you to your seats.” I turned to motion to Ramiah, but he was already at Amnon’s side, leading him and Jonadab to their seats.

I watched them–Jonadab strutting past my brothers and Amnon slinking behind him. My brothers had become quiet–only nodding to Jonadab who called out loud greetings–then looking gravely at Amnon who said nothing.

Once they were seated, one of my brothers called out for more wine and another asked, “When is the food going to be ready, Brother? We are starving here!”

As the laughter rang out, I ordered the servants to pour more wine (they had instructions not to water the wine unless asked) and assured my brothers the food would be ready soon. “Patience, my brothers. Good food must be cooked to perfection.” Before they could make more demands, I left the tent–ostensibly to check on the food, but actually to make sure Kedar and Ramiah were ready. They were, and it was finally time to put my plan into play.

From the back of the tent, I gave a nod to Jonadab, and he casually rose from his seat and left the tent just as two of my servants began bringing in baskets of bread and platters of roasted vegetables.

“Come on, Brother!” bellowed one of my brothers. “Where’s the meat?”

With the wine flowing freely, my brothers were getting louder–laughing and teasing one another. Since I wanted them drunk, this brought me some satisfaction (though I knew a fine line existed before they became belligerent and more demanding) until I noticed two exceptions: my two younger brothers, Solomon and Shammua. Both were quiet and seemed not to be drinking as much as the others. I frowned, wondering what could be wrong with that sanctimonious Solomon. I should go over to them and encourage them to drink more, but that would probably only arouse suspicions and, besides, it was far too late for that. Time for execution.

My servants were ready to bring in the roasted lamb, so I nodded for them to come on. My eyes met those of Kedar, and he nodded his readiness. The servants brought in the lamb and my brothers cheered, though one said something about ‘where was something for the others?’

As soon as my brothers began diving into the lamb, Kedar and Ramiah came in behind Amnon. They each grabbed him by an arm and pulled him up, then Kedar drove his knife into my oldest brother’s chest. Amnon looked up at me, and I smiled, watching the shock, then the light fade from his eyes. So great was my pleasure, I was barely aware of my other brothers as–in a flurry–they all jumped up as if the tent was on fire, almost trampling each other as they raced out of the tent.

Once they were gone, my servants and I began to act quickly. We made sure the oil lamps were all put out, then began gathering up the cushions, cups, etc.

“We should be away, my lord,” Kedar said to me, cleaning off his knife.

I nodded, looking around the tent with both pride and contentment. Jonadab would soon be telling my father how I had killed all his sons, and it wouldn’t be long before the great king sent men here. I would be going to my grandfather’s, along with Kedar and Ramiah. I had other servants assigned to take care of the food and take down the tent. Two others would attend to my brother’s body and wait for my father’s men to arrive.

“Very well,” I said. “Let us be off.” I took a last look at my brother’s face before my servants covered it. “Be at peace, Brother,” I said softly. “Your debt is now paid.”

Soli Deo gloria

 

“My Name is Absalom” Part 6 by P. M. Gilmer

If you missed last week’s post, here is part five: https://declaretonextgeneration.com/2017/08/25/my-name-is-absalom-part-5-by-p-m-gilmer/

 

After many obstacles and hindrances, I finally began to formulate my plans for revenge. A knife in the dark would probably be easiest, but not nearly as satisfying. No, my revenge must be public as well as complete. I not only wanted my brother to know of my hatred, but also my father. If he had done his duty as a father by protecting Tamar–or failing that, in punishing Amnon–I could have, perhaps, forgiven him. Not that he seemed to want or need my forgiveness. He seemed to have pushed the whole incident from his mind, like an unpleasant taste or a childhood illness. Something difficult and heart-wrenching at the time, but now in the past and best forgotten. But, I would not forget if for no other reason than this: Tamar would certainly never forget.

You may be wondering how Tamar fared by this time. Since she still did not want to leave my home, even to visit our sisters and mother, I made plans for her to visit our grandfather, our mother’s father. As I said earlier, my mother’s father is king of the small country, Geshur, and Tamar could feel both comfortable and cared for there. I wanted my mother to accompany her (I needed both of them out of the city), and though at first she balked at this suggestion (why must she be so difficult?), she eventually consented. Not for any concern for Tamar, but rather because of her own present difficulties at the palace. She never felt she received enough respect there, and since the incident with Tamar, things had only gotten worse. The other wives (with the exception of Amnon’s mother who pretended nothing had changed) tried to express sympathy to her, but she flared up at their offers of “pity.” Also, as my mother could not bring herself to express much compassion toward Tamar, this caused the other wives to go from sympathy to puzzlement to scorn. Anyway, once I had both my mother and Tamar conveniently out of the way, I began to finalize my plans.

My brothers and I all had our own pieces of land where we raised sheep, wheat, barley, and a few even had their own bee hives. With the weather turning warmer and the rains ceasing, the time to begin sheep-shearing was upon us. My brothers often shared chores with each other, so I decided to ask my brothers to come and help me with my sheep-shearing. To make manifest my generous and forgiving spirit, I would promise to first give them a big dinner and to even include Amnon and our father.

Since my brothers and I had not been on the friendliest of terms, I needed to find a way to ask them that would seem casual, yet deliberate; friendly and non-threatening. For some reason, my brothers didn’t totally trust me and a friendly gesture from me could possibly be construed as suspicious. It’s true I didn’t often invite them over for a meal, but again, sheep-shearing was a chore often shared, so, hopefully, they would just see it as my way of getting free labor. Or cheap labor. I would be providing a meal, after all.

Since I needed some help, I decided to make use of Jonadab and his eagerness to be of any assistance and to somehow make amends for his part in my sister’s tragedy. Not that I thought for a moment he truly wanted to make amends except as a way to get in my good graces, but having him at my side would lessen my brothers’ suspicions, and I also needed him to convince Amnon to come.

Obviously, after spending almost two years avoiding Amnon and having nothing good to say about him, it would be difficult for me to just saunter up to him and say, “Hey, Brother! Long time, no see. How about coming over to my place for dinner?” No, even Amnon wasn’t that gullible. But, as Jonadab so aptly put it, for whatever reason, Amnon did trust him, so if anyone could convince Amnon to come to a dinner with all his brothers at my invitation, it would have to be Jonadab.

I found several of my brothers at target practice one morning (thanks to Jonadab who ran to my house with the news). One of my younger brothers, Solomon, was showing off a bow he made during the rainy months, and, of course, I couldn’t resist issuing him a small challenge. The kid takes things too seriously, and I knew he would be eager to try and beat me. He is smart in some ways, but dumb in so many others. I mean, I’m a warrior and was pulling bows before he could even pull himself up. I don’t think a new bow, no matter how well he made it, is going to be much of a test for my superior skills. Still, a little competition between brothers keeps things interesting and could make my brothers believe I wanted to be part of the family again.

After spending a couple of hours with my brothers shooting arrows, (I was on one team and Solomon on the other), I decided to end the match and extended the dinner invitation to my brothers. As I had feared, they first expressed skepticism, but I pleaded with them, telling them I thought it would be good for us to get together and have some family time, blah, blah. Seriously? Family time? I suppose I’m lucky they didn’t laugh in my face, but I finally managed to convince them of my sincerity. I’m sure it helped when I added I would help them later with their own sheep.

Jonadab and I left together, Jonadab wanting to jabber the whole way while I preferred to rethink and go over every detail of my plan. But I had to make sure Jonadab knew his part and was ready to play it, so I let him talk, only half listening.

“Did you see Solomon’s face when you asked them all to dinner? And Adonijah’s? Especially when you said you planned to ask Amnon, too? They both looked like they had drunk some sour wine. Do you think they’ll really come? And are you really going to ask Uncle David to come?”

I smiled, reliving the moments of my brothers’ faces when I said I intended to ask Amnon to the dinner. “Oh, they’ll come all right. A free meal? A chance to see if me and Amnon will reconcile? You just better make sure you get Amnon to come. And, yes, I will ask my father, though I know he won’t come.”

My mind continued to race with the details of my plan. Inviting my father would be a bit tricky, and it was hard for me to decide if I wanted him to come or not. Since he would not come alone (having at least one guard, if not several), my plan’s chance of success would be greater without him. However, without him there, I would never have the satisfaction of seeing his face when he learned what I had done to his beloved eldest son.

We came to where we needed to part ways that Jonadab might make his way to Amnon’s house, and I would go on to my own home. I turned to face Jonadab, grabbing one of his shoulders.

“I will expect to hear from you tomorrow about how you fared with Amnon. No one, and I mean, no one had better suspect a thing.”

Jonadab nodded, his pain from my grip on his shoulder evident on his face, though he tried to mask it. “Don’t worry, Absalom. I know how to talk to Amnon, and I would never betray you.”

I smirked at that. Did he really think I trusted him? My little weasel of a cousin had his uses, but I was not such a fool as to trust someone who turned his affections as quickly as this one. A pity for Amnon that he trusted him, but that’s what happened when you committed such a heinous crime against someone in your own family. It left you with few friends.

“I will see you tomorrow,” I said, releasing his shoulder with a final push, then turned from him to walk home.

“My Name is Absalom” Part 5 by P. M. Gilmer

If you missed last week of this continuing story, here’s the link for part four:

https://declaretonextgeneration.com/2017/08/18/my-name-is-absalom-part-4-by-p-m-gilmer/

Unfortunately, my plans had to be delayed when another tragedy occurred in my family. It is not my intention to speak of this event now. I only mention it to partially explain why it took me almost two years to carry out my revenge.

Once things had settled, I felt free to pursue my plans again with, I admit, an even greater sense of urgency and desire. I began again to consider my need to befriend (or re-befriend) my cousin, Jonadab. As I said earlier, he avoided me when possible, so I knew well enough to take things slowly as I did not want to arouse his suspicion. Since I do not willingly seek to befriend people in the best of times, I knew this to be a great possibility–even for someone as eager to make friends as Jonadab.

So for several months, I would nod my head pleasantly towards him whenever our paths should cross. (I thought I looked pleasant anyway, though the way he always skittered away made me feel I should perhaps work a little harder on my “pleasant look.”) Eventually, I took to waving and calling out to him. He would respond with a quick nod, but he certainly made no effort to come any closer and start up a conversation.

Finally one day, I sent one of my servants to his house to ask him to meet me at an inn that evening where we could share a meal together. Alas, I couldn’t invite him to my own home as he probably wouldn’t come, and also because Tamar still refused to leave. Though she could easily stay out of sight (and did when I had other company), I did not want her to know of my plans. She would never understand, and I was afraid she might feel betrayed if she knew I was meeting Jonadab for any reason.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Jonadab would even show up. I sat at a table outside where I ordered a skin of wine and two cups. Halfway through drinking my first cup, Jonadab walked up behind me. Now, you might wonder why I would sit with my back to the road, and if Jonadab was thinking at all, he would have wondered at it too. But, I was giving Jonadab a chance to change his mind when he saw me, and I also wanted him to believe I trusted him. Of course, I didn’t trust him–not for a minute. And if he had any sense, he wouldn’t have trusted me. But, Jonadab wanted to please people too much. A dangerous attribute to have and, thankfully, not one I was ever cursed with.

“Absalom?”

I turned and gave him my biggest smile. “Cousin! It has been too long! Come, sit. Innkeeper! How is that rack of lamb coming?”

I pushed a stool towards Jonadab, then poured him some wine. I continued to chatter–asking him about his family, if he had been hunting lately, what did he think about the Ammonites and their refusal to pay Father tribute, etc.–while the food came and we continued to drink. Jonadab answered in monosyllables, eating hungrily, and drinking at least two cups to every one of mine.

By the time we finished our meal, night had fallen, the streets were deserted, and Jonadab had relaxed and even laughed at a few of my not-so-funny jokes. In the middle of one of his loud guffaws, I pulled out my knife, laid it on the table, and leaned over closer to him. “It is said that you were the mastermind behind my sister’s disgrace.”

He blanched, and I feared he might lose the meal I had just bought him all over the wooden table. Fortunately for him he didn’t as I would have been sorely tempted to make him eat his vomit if he had.

“No, Absalom,” he finally managed to get out. “That is, it is not what you think or what people are saying. I never expected Amnon to hurt Tamar. I knew he loved her. I thought he respected her! I did encourage him to speak with your father. I thought he would ask to marry her. I couldn’t believe it when he grabbed her like that, and then when he threw her out . . .”

He stopped, his eyes pleading, while I continued to look at him coolly. Inside, I felt anything but cool. It was all I could do not to grab him by his neck and choke those words out of him. Though I remained determined to get my revenge, I did not need the scene described to me. It would be enough to know who to blame.

“I know well enough the sins of Amnon; it is you I want to hear about now. Did you do anything to defend my sister and her honor? Or did you sit idly by? Or perhaps you were the one who threw her out and bolted the door?”

Even with only a flickering oil lamp on our table, I could see Jonadab’s face turn from a scarlet red to an ash gray. It amused me to see a face turn so many different shades. I hadn’t realized this was possible.

He reached for his wine cup, but it was empty as was our wine skin. “Sorry, Jonadab,” I said affably, though not sorry at all, of course. “But we seem to be out of wine. Why don’t you just answer my questions, and we can both go home?”

“It was his servants who threw her out and bolted the door, though Amnon commanded them to. I . . .”

“Did nothing. As I thought.” I picked up my knife and moved it back and forth so the flame would reflect in its blade, then lightly touched my thumb to the blade as if testing its sharpness, though Jonadab well knew I kept my knives and swords sharpened at all times. Then I slammed the blade into the table and leaned towards Jonadab, so close I could hear his rapid breathing and smell his fear-soaked sweat.

“You did nothing,” I whispered, “and I should kill you right now for that alone. However, . . .” I stopped and sat back, giving him time to catch his breath and consider.

Eyes wide, he said, “I’ll do whatever you want, Absalom. I can help you take your revenge on Amnon. He still trusts me. Truly, I’m one of the few people he still trusts.”

I smiled with no attempt to look pleasant now. “More fool him, it would seem. Very well, you shall have a chance to redeem yourself, but you must do everything I say.”

Jonadab nodded so eagerly, I was minded of a dog I had once seen groveling for his Hittite master.

I jerked my knife out of the table and leaned towards him again. “You’ll be hearing from me soon–and, in the meantime, don’t even think of going outside the walls of Jerusalem.” And I left him there, sitting in the darkness.