Book Review of A Shimmer of Something

A Shimmer of Something  by Brian Doyle (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014).

Roostery. Brian Doyle uses this perfect word to describe the swagger of adolescent males. His new collection of “box poems” or “proems” delights with the play, the reach, the spasm and splurge of language. His lines are graceful, lean and surprising–as if he were the G. M. Hopkins of our time. At first I rationed, thinking I couldn’t possibly appreciate more than a couple a day. (And the style IS a bit in-your-face.)

But now and then, I binged—well, it’s too early to turn on the laptop during a flight, so what else? And then I’d start noticing, as Doyle does, the little gems we so often miss. The man in the orange vest, loading luggage, waves goodbye to the flight attendant closing the plane’s door. Does he do that every day? Every flight? What a lovely farewell when this must his stultifying routine. Doyle would do justice to the odd moment.

It’s hard to name favorites, but “Father Man” is high on the list because my grand-daughter is close in age to the tiny, blustering force in the poem. And “The Thirty,” a tribute to good priests, echoes the powerful film “Calvary.” “As I Ever Saw” praises the courage of a little boy in hospital with a terrible disease, who rallies to please the therapist, does her art project, then sinks back in exhaustion. “What a Father Thinks While Driving His Daughter, Age 17, to Rehab” could never have been written by a bishop.

Doyle explores the crazy quagmire of parenting, probes the sensitive areas in friendship which we never speak aloud, roars at basketball, chortles at fun, remembers key detail, and weaves fascinating stories. He wonders why “the very best thing is the one thing that hurts the worst.” How Catholic of him, in the best sense of the word, to see the world saturated by grace, with the divine always lurking around the next bend. Recognizing that mysterious presence, he praises it, not with the mind-deadening prose of encyclicals, but with the verve and arc and joy of the fast ball.

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