Beyond the Bedroom Wall
In one edition of Larry Woiwode's Beyond the Bedroom Wall, the front cover reads "A Family Album," which functions as something of an alternative title. It is an ideal title since the book spans three generations of the Neumiller family, a collection of creative, passionate, understated Catholics passing their days in the upper Midwest. If you had to say what the story was about, you could probably do no better than using the words family and home, and all the rich complexities, subtle joys, and deep tragedies that go with those words. And, if you had to say what the book embodies, you could do no better than calling it pure--pure in plot and pure in poetry.
To say that Beyond the Bedroom Wall is full of plot twists would convey the wrong idea, I think; however, I wouldn't hesitate to say that it is surprising in the ways it reveals characters through their decisions and actions. These actions can initially appear unrealistic, until they suddenly make perfect sense in light of who the characters are and how they are developing as people. And this seems to be consistent with life, especially with family life, that the things that help us make the most sense of our loved ones are also the most unpredictable. This story is pure and true because its author illumines human experience without forcing anything.
The primary principle of creative writing is to make, not describe. And this is also the essence of what makes a novel poetic. Beyond the Bedroom Wall acts upon us through its poetry, giving us the sense that we are not so much hearing the Neumillers' story as we are living it with them. Whether through the story's extensive use of onomatopoeia, or its ventures into the minds of characters who are sick or high, or the lengthy passages in which the reader can't even be sure whose mind he is currently inhabiting, we are carried into the story as unknowing participants, not omniscient observers. Through its mysterious nature, we have to discover how to rejoice with the rejoicers and weep with the weepers, or we will not really be reading the story at all. And, if it's true that something is pure only in as much as it is also purifying, then, as Beyond the Bedroom Wall leads us into the lives of its characters as co-bearers of their many burdens, it sanctifies us in the process.