James Lee Burke is one of my favorite novelists; not only because he writes well, but also he works theology into his writing. It’s the sort of biblical allusions that makes me stop and think for a few moments. Below are some quotes from his latest novel, “The House of the Rising Sun.” The book is mainly set in 1918 featuring the seamier side of life in the San Antonio, Texas area.
He is taking a bath while eating milk, tortillas stuffed with peppers and onions with pork cooked by the nearby Mexicans. “As he (Hackberry Holland) gazed at the shade and the rain advancing across the hardpan, cooling and cleansing the land, he felt years of rage and violence seep from his body into the bottom of the tub. He closed his eyes and let the wind touch his face and anoint his brow as though he were reliving his baptism by immersion in the Guadalupe River.”
Later Hackberry describes life in the near lawless city. Night didn’t cover up the evil, but revealed it, like kicking over a rotting log.
“People are driven by their vices, not their virtues, Ishmael. (Ishmael is Hackberry’s son) Why climb up on a cross about it?” Ishmael’s situation is comparable to Ishmael, Abraham’s Son in Genesis.
“if I didn’t believe somebody was up there, I’d be forced to believe in myself. For me, that’s a horrible thought.”
“I once got kicked in the head by a bull named Original Sin. That’s a fact.”
“For what shall it profit a man if he gains the world and never figures out a solitary thing coming down the pike?”
“The last chapter, even the last page in the book describing one’s days, did not give unity or understanding to one’s life; at best, the narrative sorted out the chaff and allowed a man to step. Over a line with a lighter load and mount a fresh horse for a journey that hopefully had no end.”