Monday, February 15, 2016

Revelation by Dennis Covington

In the early 1990's Alabama's First Couple of Letters was Dennis and Vicki Covington. They were young and beautiful and smart and damned good writers, and whether they liked it or not waters tended to part when they'd walk in a room. 

She wrote lyrical homebound novels; his work was a bit quirkier but lovely in its own way. The notion that these two people and all those extraordinary words lived and loved together was the stuff of which dreams can be made. 

But you wake up from dreams, sometimes in a cold sweat, which is what happened when they wrote, together, the story of the coming apart of that marriage in their book Cleaving. It was painful to read. We had hoped they weren't so flawed, so mortal. 

After publication of that book in 1999, the two of them went quiet. I'm certain that those in the inner literary circles of the state have had a clue what's been going on with them. What I know the rest of us have hoped was that they had found reasons to be happy and sober and that they would write again. 

When the advance reading copy of Dennis Covington's Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World showed up just weeks before we closed the doors to the bookstore, I was elated. Dennis wrote about faith and his dance into and around it years ago, in the stunning Salvation on Sand Mountain. I was glad to see that he was still wrestling with the angels. He writes about that very, very well. 

From the jacket, this: 

Looking not for rigid doctrines, creeds, or beliefs...(Covington) sought something bigger and more fundamental: faith, faith in goodness, kindness, and the humanity of the smallest moments in the most difficult times. 

Covington searches for those evidences of faith both close to home and farther afield, often in the most dangerous places in the world. How do people who daily witness the very worst life has to offer continue to believe whatever it is they believe, and have faith for a better future?

The very nature of faith makes it difficult to pin down in words. If you are not a person given to it, nothing I or anyone else can say can explain what it feels like to have it, or lose it, or to find it again. One hopes, though, that a person as gifted with words as Covington can at least get you close. 

That was the hope for me, anyway. I live a pretty peachy existance. The most frightening prospect in my life at this moment is the potentially rabid raccoon who has decided to take up residence in our attic, who has, as of now, eluded capture. Despite a wave of gun violence in our culture, I don't experience fear in my day to day life. The only explosion I have ever witnessed was a carefully controlled one designed to demolish an abandoned prison facility. Even so, with no reason at all ever to fundamentally question my faith in Someone who is in benevolent charge of us all, I find myself doing so. It's a paradox understood to all those who believe that the more you question your faith with an open heart, the more deeply you find yourself embraced by it. 

What I wanted, when I picked up Covington's book, was to have his beautifully articulated words say what my clumsy ones fail to say.

What I found instead was a mostly unsatisfying travelogue that only occasionally allowed a glimpse of what I believe Covington wanted us to experience with him. Most of what he writes about here are his temporal experiences, and the most he seems to say about the role of faith is that (a) some people have it, (b) some people pervert it; and (c) it brings great comfort to those who keep it, despite their circumstances. Hardly new ground. In fairness, I don't think anyone who has ever written about faith in the face of fear has ever come up with anything different. I just always want them to tell it with words I cannot find. 

I was glad to have read it, though, if only because it answered many of the questions I and others have had about where he has been, and what he's been doing all these years to have remained so largely silent. 

On sale date: February 16, 2016
Published by Little, Brown and Company

No comments:

Post a Comment