“He was big enough, but no giant.” With that gently dismissive allowance, spoken by the biblical King David, Brooks (Caleb’s Crossing, 2011, etc.) continues to explore the meaning of faith and religion in ordinary life.
And sometimes extraordinary life, too, for even David has to admit that it’s not every day one has to fight a Philistine hero. Goliath’s fatal error was that he underestimated David, who tells a young shepherd, “Sometimes, it is good to be small.” David’s God is most definitely the one of the Old Testament, the jealous and punitive one; as leader of his tribe, David’s hands are covered in blood, including that of the family of the shepherd boy. Brooks skillfully retells David’s story through the eyes of Natan, the shepherd, who plays numerous roles throughout the narrative; as Avigail, David’s knowing wife, tells him, “David will call for you often enough, be assured of it. He uses every tool that comes into his hand.” There’s plenty of action, some biblically bloodthirsty; there’s plenty of talk as well, including some psychologizing that rings a touch anachronistic (says Avigail, for instance, “I’ve come to understand that he is what he is because of his faults”). David emerges from Brooks’ pages as a complex, somewhat wounded man, dogged by trauma but mostly resolute all the same; in one of the most telling passages, Brooks imagines David eating a chicken leg calmly just after the death of a baby, reasoning, “Now he’s dead, why should I fast? Can fasting bring him back again?” Of just as much interest as her view of the politically astute lion in winter are Brooks’ portraits of characters who are somewhat thinly fleshed in their biblical accounts, such as Batsheva, Yoav, Avner, and even Avshalom—for, as Brooks sagely writes, “David, who so often saw so clearly, who weighed men to a fine grain, was utterly blind to the failings of the men he begat.”
A skillful reimagining of stories already well-known to any well-versed reader of the Bible gracefully and intelligently told.