How the Body Prays

Peter Weltner, Author Graywolf Press $23.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-55597-288-2
A Southern family's dogged adherence to its rigid code of honor propels this sensitively wrought saga by novelist (The Risk of His Music) and short story writer Weltner. For generations, ever since the Civil War, the Odom family motto ""Lay Aside Fear"" has driven its men to fight for their country, with tragic results. By the time the Vietnam conflict escalates, the family graveyard in South Carolina has more than its share of martyrs. Andy Odom is eager for the chance to show his loyalty, but his older brother, Aaron, the favorite, is not. Aaron fears being branded a coward by his imperious grandmother, so he takes a desk job in Saigon, counting casualties and partying, until he falls in love with Tu Loc, a Vietnamese prostitute. Unaware that Tu Loc is pregnant, he dies searching for his brother's combat unit. After the war, a shattered, openly gay Andy escapes to California, where he drifts aimlessly, fighting loneliness with reckless one-night stands. When his father, Drew, dies, Andy discovers proof of the older man's hidden homosexuality in the adolescent journals that document Drew's secret love for Aaron Rose, a gifted young composer. Andy seeks out Rose, who is now crippled and unable to write music, and vows to produce the symphonic piece Rose dedicated to Drew. As Andy's story moves to center stage, the novel achieves a supple, stirring dramatic synthesis: he finds happiness with a former priest and locates Tu Loc and his nephew, Luke, who have come to America. Despite a confusing timeline, a surfeit of details about the members of each generation and some stilted dialogue (Drew's daughters, Anna and Louisa, speak like Victorian matrons), Weltner's heartfelt epic boldly examines, and historically contextualizes, each Odom family member's complex struggle with honor, honesty, sexual identity and self-determination. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
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