BEECHER by Dan McCall
Kirkus Star


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McCall takes a wide swerve away from the approach of his last novel (the small, ironic, contemporary Jack the Bear) and attacks in a totally new voice the life, and especially the 1875 adultery trial, of Henry Ward Beecher--Brooklyn Heights' and America's most famous preacher of temperance, abolition, and women's rights; brother of Harriet B. Stowe; and member of that remarkable Beecher family, ""damned and tragic and morbid. . . all of us on our wild course, weighing anchor in claptrap, and finding snug harbor in heroic discipleship."" Accused by a prot‚g‚ of having dallied with the man's wife, a charge subsequently made in public by the free-love-espousing feminist Victoria Woodhull, Beecher was crucified by those at the forefront of the very causes his large soul cared most deeply about. McCall, carefully attending all the historical documents, chooses Henry's younger brother Tom for his narrator (another Beecher-boy minister, but one with a jaundiced, ironic set of mind) and then lets rip with a reconstruction of some of the most gorgeous, meaty, elaborate language--Beecher's--that you can imagine. Caught beautifully are the legal, sexual, and political overtones of the period (Beecher was acquitted by j—ry--wrongly, it turned out); but this is mostly a book of rhetoric, thunderous and sweet. And whenever the library's mustiness closes in, McCall quickly aerates it with ripples of language that are truly inspired. Good historical fiction--but, beyond that, evidence of a suppleness with words that McCall's readers have known about since the syncopated jazz of his first, neglected book, The Man Says Yes.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1979
Publisher: Dutton