25 April 2007

A Prayer for the Dying


I'm not really sure if I'd recommend A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan. It is not at all a cheerful book; in fact, it rather horrific. It's set in Wisconsin after the Civil War in a town that faces diphtheria and fire. The main character, Jacob Hansen (although you almost feel like you're the main character, since the book's written in second person) isn't necessarily likable, although I don't know that I'd have made a lot significantly different decisions than he did. He wasn't left with a lot of choices, particularly since he was the constable, the undertaker, and the preacher in town. Not a happy combination.

O'Nan is an excellent writer though. You can't help but keep reading. I did think his mortality rate was artificially high- the vast majority survive diphtheria and everyone who caught it in A Prayer for the Dying didn't survive (although some didn't die of the disease). But that's a common fault in books like these- making it all sound even worse than it would have been.

So read it if you love good writing and an engrossing story. But overall, I wouldn't recommend it to many people I know in real life.

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