Book Review: UNDER THE MERCY, by Sheldon Vanauken

In the beginning of the book, Vanauken assures the reader that there's something in UNDER THE MERCY to offend everybody. Having read UNDER's predecessor, A Severe Mercy, I found this hard to believe, but even with my guard up, Vanauken did manage to offend me, but in the best sort of way. He made me think, very hard, about lots of important things.

I was definately skeptical of the merit of "A sequel to A Severe Mercy", but Vanauken did well--aside from having plenty of interesting and challenging things to say, he provided a fascinating glimpse of himself post-Mercy, and of the (most wonderful) writing of A Severe Mercy.

A Severe Mercy tells of Vanauken's singular marriage--UNDER THE MERCY tells of the thirty or so years following his wife's death, years that are touched on, however briefly, toward the end of A Severe Mercy, but which are fleshed out here as Vanauken ruminates on his involvement in the Civil Rights, Antiwar and Women's Lib Movements, his departure and return to the faith, and his conversion to Catholicism. He includes several essays and poems and articles written at different periods throughout his life, and is fond of quoting himself (sometimes to the extent of striking me as a bit pompous), but he provides a rather unique perspective, given his experiences, on the state of the Church and Christianity. Some of his writings on feminisim and the Spirit of the Age were particularly good (and offensive), and gave me plenty to ponder.

Despite my skepticism, I was impressed, and while I enjoyed the extra little glimpses he offered of himself and of Davy, after another ten years of reflection (from writing A Severe Mercy), I also found myself enjoying his theological articles much more than I'd anticipated. I somehow didn't pick up on how fiercely opinionated Vanauken is, while reading A Severe Mercy, but perhaps the subject in that book didn't allow for quite so much of his stubbornness to show through. All in all, it was a wonderful follow-up, and I'll be reading it again--probably on alternate years with A Severe Mercy.


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