The Eighth Day begins with murder of Breckenridge Lansing in his yard as he and his friend John Ashley are engaged in their customary Sunday afternoon rifle practice.
Tried and convicted for the murder, Ashley was rescued from execution by six silent, disguised men and never heard from again.
The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
Harper & Row, 1967. 435 p. 1967 bestseller #6. My grade: B+.
Having hooked his readers, Thornton Wilder plays them for another 400 pages, now letting them drift backward on the story line, them abruptly jerking them forward into the Great War era.
Set out in linear fashion, the plot would be fairly simple. Wilder’s literary style makes it complicated—which appears to be his point: The world’s bid and wide and our perspective is narrow.
Wilder dips deep into the histories of the Lansings and Ashleys, seeking family traits that the 1902 characters might have inherited that could explain their behaviors.
The time shifts nearly hide the absurdities in the plot.
Wilder’s characters are clearly drawn, entirely believable bundles of heroism and absurdities.
Despite that, whatever is distinctive about the characters is crushed beneath Wilder’s self-conscious style.
He produces bon mots as continuously as a Bombyx mori secretes silk.
Two comparisons to a Bombyx mori secreting silk within 16 pages is one mot too many.
© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni