I read two of Neil Grimmett’s books – The Hoard and The Threshing Circle – about a year or so ago, and generally liked both; both books were thrillers of a sort, albeit thrillers with a far more character-driven and literary feel to them than you might have originally expected. And so, I assumed The Bestowing Sun would be more of the same, especially as I learned the basic premise, which revolves around the complicated relationship between two very different brothers – a relationship that bears more than a passing resemblance to the story of the prodigal son.
Instead, The Bestowing Sun turns out to be more of a drama, or maybe even a melodrama, even if it’s a wonderfully literate one on the whole. Grimmett digs in deeply to his two brothers, creating two very different people: one, a truly gifted artist finally starting to get in touch with his gift; the other, a farmer who’s stayed at home and lived a simple life, and resents his brother’s more artistic ambitions. Except, even that synopsis doesn’t quite get into the complexities of these two men, nor of the family around them, which lives and breathes in a sea of contradictions, regrets, and atoning for past mistakes.
All of which sounds really great. So why did I respond so weakly to this book?
I can’t help but feel that part of it goes back to a problem I had with Grimmet’s The Threshing Circle. One thing that I admire about Grimmett is his desire to let his characters evolve and change, and even contradict themselves. The father in The Bestowing Sun feels like a monster as we see the early glimpses of him…but as the boys grow, he becomes a man who regrets his past actions, and wants to make up for them. At least, in theory. But in reality, Grimmett makes the two sides of the man feel incongruous and jagged, making it feel less like a character evolution and more like inconsistency, or simply a retcon. It feels, indeed, like we’re missing the transition period between the two, and while I get what he’s going for, it’s presented in such a way that it feels jarring and inconsistent, not revelatory and evolutionary. (The fact that Grimmett jumps around in time at points doesn’t help this either.) And this goes for many of the characters, who seem to be more of a series of data points at times than a full character. It seems as though we see different sides of them, but aren’t quite given enough shades of gray around those points to connect it all together. And that gets awfully frustrating…and it all goes about double when it comes to the main female character, who comes across as a placeholder for all kinds of issues.
Given that the book is so much about its characters, then, you’d expect that to make me hate it. But I didn’t – not quite. Because there’s a great book in here, but it needs some fleshing out, some added material. If Grimmett had had the chance to add some transitions, to fill in the details around the high points of people’s lives, The Bestowing Sun could be something truly great. As it is, it’s never bad…but it never works as well as you wish it would, either.