Saturday, November 12, 2011
REVIEW: The Pilgrim by Hugh Nissenson
On his journey Charles falls in love again, this time with a young woman seeking the pious life. In Plymouth, they must overcome a world in which wolves and heathen Indians roam the dark forests, and famine and disease are ever-present threats."
The novel kicks off with Charles Wentworth stating he is writing his confession to publicly acknowledge all of his sins so that he can become a member of Plymouth Colony's congregation. The journey Charles takes to get to this point is long and heartbreaking, and one that is written in a surprisingly authentic voice. The book took me awhile to get into because Nissenson has Charles recounting his tale in the speech of a 1600's Puritan (with hath, thee, thou and the curious manner of speech we would consider backward now ex: "on the night she gave me birth" instead of "on the night she gave birth to me"). Once I got used to the story being recounted in this way things moved along a lot faster.
Charles is a conflicted soul who wishes to please his father but is not yet secure in his faith. Will he be saved or is he damned? Are his sins too numerous to overcome? Charles already faces a lot of conflict for his religious beliefs but he also faces much loss. The greatest of these, the loss of his betrothed, is the turning point where Charles decides to leave his tragic life in England behind and head for the New World. The life he encounters there is different than he could have possibly imagined with hard work, conflicts with the natives, poverty, starvation, and despair to contend with. Still there is hope as Charles and the rest of the settlers struggle to keep their settlements going against the odds both at already established Plymouth and at Wessagusset where Charles and his fellow travelers try to start a new Colony.
It is in the latter part of the book set in the colonies where the book is most interesting and where Nissenson's raw and honest view of the extremely unenviable life of the colonists (as told by Charles) really comes to life. The dangers these people faced and the slow descent from civilized behavior to survival mode is quite haunting. Still, the first half of the book with the parts set in England and with the lack of action throughout the novel bogs the whole thing down quite a bit. Charles experiences a lot of loss while in England but he recounts it in a detached manner with not a whole lot of emotion behind it so it was kind of hard to connect to his character. The only time I truly felt connected to him was in the parts dealing with his love interests.
Overall, I appreciated the authentic voice and the glimpse of this point in history when the colonies were first trying to establish themselves in America. I just wish there had been a bit more excitement to it.