Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Review: THE BRAIDED PATH by Donna Glee Williams

My friend Donna Glee Williams has just had her first novel published - The Braided Path. I have eagerly read The Braided Path twice, and I find myself in awe of the world Donna Glee has created and of the skill with which she has created it. 

The Braided Path is what we might call a gentle fantasy. The story takes place in a world slightly different from ours but without such fantasy elements as magic, witches, wizards, talking animals, and other phenomena that supersede the laws of nature.

The Braided Path is set mostly in a Steep Land, where all the villages lie along one vertical path. One calls one's own village Home Village, and one refers to other villages by their position above or below one's own, such as Second Village Up or Fourth Village Down. Young people have two important tasks to accomplish in moving into adulthood: discovery of their limits (how far up and how far down the path they feel comfortable traveling) and discovery of their passion, which will become their life's work and their contribution to the community. For example, one may discover a passion for rope making, for dyeing, for sewing, for carpentry, for stone masonry, for baking, for midwifery, for healing, for far walking, for climbing, or for any of many other pursuits.

The novel centers on Cam (a young male) and Fox (a young female), who love each other. Both also love far walking, but Cam feels called to walk ever upward on the path and Fox to walk ever downward. The novel explores how following their calling to walk upward or to walk downward both separates and joins Cam and Fox. In fact, the novel explores the themes of separating and joining, of living from one's life passion, of choices, of work, of love and loyalty, of community and individuality, of limits and the stretching of limits, of rending and healing.

I have reviewed The Braided Path by Donna Glee Williams on Amazon. In the review, I bring out the special treasures I find in this extraordinary novel. My review appears below.

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As a friend of Donna Glee Williams, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of her first novel, The Braided Path. I was expecting to enjoy The Braided Path, but I was not prepared for the extraordinary power of the world that Williams has created and of the characters who live there. I have just finished reading the novel twice. My first reading left me both stimulated and satisfied, but I knew that The Braided Path was so rich that more treasures remained to be mined in a second reading. Let me share with you some of the joys that await in The Braided Path.

First is the sheer beauty of the novel’s setting—a beauty both physical and philosophical. Williams lives in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and spends much time outdoors. She deeply appreciates the flora, the fauna, and the elements of mountain life, and she has taken the time to learn something of their science and their lore. Williams’ keen observation, coupled with her experience of writing poetry, produces physical descriptions of her novel’s world that are soul-satisfyingly lovely.

The beauty of The Braided Path exists not only in its physical world but even more deeply in its philosophical world. The characters are living from a paradigm where both the community and the individual are highly valued. There is an understanding that the community flourishes when each individual finds his or her passion and offers the fruits of that passion to the community—whether the passion be for baking, for building, for weaving, for fishing, for far walking, for healing, or for any of a multitude of other pursuits. Individuals act for the good of the community, and the community honors the needs and desires of each individual. I stand in awe of the way this balance is maintained and sometimes righted as the events of the novel unfold. I am especially intrigued by the rightful place of anger in such a world.

Second is the perspective from which the story of The Braided Path is told. As events unfold, Williams allows us to experience these events through the eyes of one character and then another. We find ourselves seeing through the eyes of Cam Far Walker, then of Fox, then of Len Rope Maker, then of Lia Midwife, then of Nish Fisher, then of little Jade, and then even of Goose the cat. Williams does this so deftly and unobtrusively that it is sheer delight when the kaleidoscope turns just slightly and we find ourselves in the mind of another character for an instant. For me, this was a highly enjoyable aspect of reading The Braided Path.

Third is the wonderful idea Williams had of including the dreams of the characters. We get to know Cam, Fox, Len, Nish, and others, not only through their waking thoughts, words, and deeds—but also through their dreams. Because Williams makes us privy to these subconscious stirrings of the characters, I feel a special closeness to them, as though my encounter with the characters includes the soul level as well as the conscious level.

Fourth is the poetic detail given to descriptions of the crafts practiced in The Braided Path, particularly rope making. Generally speaking, I do not enjoy reading technical details in a novel. How surprised I was, then, to find myself intrigued with the information about plants, fiber, braiding, and tying. The information is just enough, and the materials and actions are so beautifully described that I was captivated.

Fifth, I enjoyed the touches of humor sparkling throughout the novel. The Braided Path is not a work of humor, but every once in a while a situation or a turn of phrase is so gently funny that I found myself laughing out loud. It is a joy to discover these humor gems throughout the novel.

I have not exhausted the treasures of The Braided Path, though length compels me to stop here. I highly recommend this novel! In fact, I have already started reading The Braided Path for the third time!