cover image The Short Day Dying

The Short Day Dying

Peter Hobbs, . . Harcourt/Harvest, $14 (195pp) ISBN 978-0-15-603241-4

Spiritual rumination and magnificent descriptions of nature drive Hobbs's inventively written debut, a character study that credibly evokes the colloquial rhythms of its time. Over the course of the year 1870, 27-year-old Charles Wenmoth, an apprentice blacksmith and Methodist lay preacher, thoughtfully records his lonely existence in Cornwall, England. Under the "drab unblemished skin of cloud," the Industrial Revolution has caused local farmers to abandon their land, their faith and their families in search of more lucrative work in the mines or abroad. Charles mourns the loss of these worshippers but finds strength in his faith and its manifestations in the earthly world. He also finds an Edenic calm in his frequent visits to blind, dying Harriet French. Their conversations renew Charles's belief in himself as a good man, even as he later muses, "sometimes it seems like I do not love the Sabbath as I should." Fans of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead will respond to this novel, which realistically portrays Charles's struggle to feel worthy, while illuminating the larger desire to derive meaning from human existence. (Mar.)