The Storm: A Book about Pining

Fred Buechner’s novel The Storm centers on whether life’s storms have overarching meaning, whether (pun intended) the souls men of women, boys and girls, are within the sovereign wise counsel of God and his providence or whether this seemingly random, chaotic, temptest-tossed life is, in the end, merely a storm with no God of the storm.

It’s a slow book, at least it was for me, despite its brevity (199 pages). It centers on a handful of characters, all trying to come to grips with their broken lives. Kenzie, the protagonist, is a man who cannot forgive himself for his adulteries and for his secret life. He pines for forgiveness, crying out (to God?) for forgiveness, for atonement.

He sees unbelievable beauty and brokenness in the world and in himself and in others. How to explain such beauty? Is it all just random matter in motion? Is beauty an illusion? Is the longing for a metanarrative a fool’s errand? Are we all just mad here, after all, a la Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland?

I’ve read all but one or two other books from Buechner’s pen, and I suspect, based upon his substantial body of work, he believed in God and his providence, but that he (Buechner) was often double-minded and unstable in many ways (James 1:8). And the storm as a trope was the fitting image, the allusions to Shakespeare’s romance of the same name notwithstanding. Kenzie is the Prospero-type protagonist. Here is a glimpse into Kenzie’s thinking late into the novel:

For a moment he thought that for the third time in his life he was going crazy. If the world wasn’t coming to an end as he had once thought it was from the arrangement of knives and forks on his brother’s table, it was at least coming apart. He was coming apart. If the young woman beside him was telling the truth, it meant no more than that she was Kenzie’s illegitimate daughter. But maybe it was the young woman who was crazy. In that case how could he know whethere she was telling the truth or not, how could she herself know, how could anybody know anything for sure? Maybe there was simply no truth to tell, no order to things, no fixed point to give him his bearings, but only confusion and chaos. He could feel his calp going cold as ice and was afraid that he was about to start weeping (114-15).

This is why, in my view, The Storm is about pining. It’s about the human longing for the metanarrative, if it exists, that explains both the comedy and tragedy that characterize human history.

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