Saturday, September 13, 2014

Testing Belief with Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan, perhaps more than any other writer these days, regularly addresses the moral and On Chesil Beach to the political deceit in his Cold War literary thriller Sweet Tooth, to the sweeping family drama and questioning of perceptions in Atonement, Ian McEwan is going to question how we make decisions and point out that life isn't black and white. That brings me to his newest novel, released this week, The Children Act.
ethical ambiguities of "civilized" society. From the conflicted feelings and revelations exposed to a newly married couple in his pithy, classic

I think The Children Act is McEwan's best work in a decade, and I say that as a fan who has enjoyed most of his books. I also think that The Children Act is shockingly relevant to ethical questions that seem to be becoming the center of the cultural conflicts. It's short, like On Chesil Beach, and there's something to be said with just spending a day or two with a book rather than slogging through, say, Infinite Jest (I feel obligated to remind the world how overrated I find Infinite Jest, lest the world begins to think that I'm a softy and/or aging alterna-teen kid of the 90's). It's also shocking in the way that Atonement pushed boundaries.

Booker Prize winning author
Ian McEwan
The main character: an aging family court judge in the UK named Fiona. Fiona takes her job home with her, pondering cases as well as her childlessness and her relationship over the last 30 years with her husband. Just as the stability in Fiona's personal life is shaken when her husband asks for an open marriage, she finds herself at the center of a court case that challenges her belief in the law.

The case: a 17 year-old boy named Adam is suffering from leukemia and will die without a blood transfusion. With the transfusion, though, the doctors believe he has a good chance at recovering and going into remission. The problem, though, is that Adam is a Jehovah's Witness and his religious faith forbids blood transfusions. He, as teenagers tend to be, is resolute in his absolute belief in the will of God, as are his parents and preacher. The hospital, though, sues to have custodial rights since his life is at stake and he's still a minor. This is the case that Fiona must decide--to side with personal faith or ethical duty.

Fiona and Adam are both remarkable, fully realized characters, and both show a respect for the opposite that are absent in, say, my own furious reaction to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision and anything uttered from the lips of Ted Cruz. Or in the evangelical conservatives' reactions to Obamacare and Terry Shiavo. This is an intimate novel that questions the institutions we rely upon for security, be it a marriage or the law or God. The Children Act looks for that point where divine intervention and human knowledge intersect and then pushes readers to see both sides of an issue with no easy answer. It's a novel that should be read and discussed and challenged. I'm a big, big fan of this book.

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