The biblical idea that there exists "nothing new under the sun"
frequently applies to the world of adult fiction. Familiar or foundational plots
are made fresh through detail, setting, the author's unique voice and other
elements of noteworthy novels. All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and
All Manner of Things Shall Be Well, Tod Wodicka's first book, seems, at
first read, to defy this concept. From the opening pages, taken from the
writings of Hildegard von Bingen, to the masterful conclusion that blends back
into another of the anchorite's diary excerpts, one feels that this story might
just be the one to fly in the face of this precept that all human ideas and
circumstances are recycled, repeated. However, underneath the peculiar
characters and layers of dark comedy that feed this story, hides another one of
those common, "nothing new under the sun," themes: the foibles and ecstasies of
Wodicka's tale is, without a doubt, unusual: a man, so obsessed with reenacting the middle ages that his ability to function and form relationships in modern society is severely impaired, tries to reconnect with his beloved son after a family fallout. A family crisis has peaked after the death of the man's wife, though one comes to realize that division has been brewing for years. Burt Hecker husband, father, failed history teacher and co-owner of the Mansion Inn Bed and Breakfast in Queens Falls, New York finds himself so disconnected from reality and those he loves that he is willing to make some extreme decisions in an effort to repair the damage.
Burt Hecker is a protagonist that sticks with his reader. After the novel is completed, Burt's troubles, along with his tunics and home-brewed mead, lodge in one's mind in a slightly pesky way. "Am I ever as blind to my family's needs as this guy?" and other such questions seep into one's subconscious after spending time with Burt and his strange circle. Burt's love for his dying wife is demonstrated in absurd but heartbreaking details; his relationship with his two children is complicated and messy; and his closest friend is a lawyer, a maternal woman who is successful in her vocation but privately lonely and frustrated. The rest of Burt's world revolves around his attempts to live an accurate medieval life in 20th century America and his love for the activities and members of the reenactment society that he founded, the Confraternity of Times Lost Regained.
Despite light moments and clever demonstrations of culture clash, Wodicka's novel is not a light read. His themes are weighty, his research is thorough and his characters are burdened by their personal and familial histories. Readers may guess that the struggles described in the book's pages are a reflection of its author. Wodicka admits to creating Burt Hecker at least partially out of the need to purge himself of similar tendencies before the birth of his own child. Though Wodicka himself is not an historical re-enactor, he also acknowledges amassing an overwhelming amount of research in preparation for the novel, much if which he never included in the actual text. Only an extremely talented writer could make a success of the mixture of plot, characters and subject matter in All Shall Be Well. Wodicka's story is a rare and noteworthy one, a cautionary tale rooted in a singular, yet familiarly dysfunctional, family.
This review was originally published in April 2008, and has been updated for the January 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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