Stewart O'Nan A Prayer for the Dying

ISBN 13: 9780312255015

A Prayer for the Dying

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9780312255015: A Prayer for the Dying
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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year

Set in Friendship, Wisconsin, just after the Civil War, A Prayer for the Dying tells of a horrible epidemic that is suddenly and gruesomely killing the town's residents and setting off a terrifying paranoia. Jacob Hansen, Friendship's sheriff, undertaker, and pastor, is soon overwhelmed by the fear and anguish around him, and his sanity begins to fray. Dark, poetic, and chilling, A Prayer for the Dying examines the effect of madness and violence on the morality of a once-decent man.

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Review:

When his town's sleepy summer tranquility is shattered by an outbreak of diphtheria, Jacob Hansen--constable, deacon, and undertaker--stares at an impossible dilemma: save both himself and his family or observe his many duties? Although he's nearly convinced that it's possible to do both, the inexorable and crushing horror of Stewart O'Nan's fifth novel, A Prayer for the Dying, is that evil doesn't flinch, that its insistence can obliterate goodness, corrupt humility. "When won't faith save you?" Jacob wonders; the silence soon deafens him.

An ostensibly inured Civil War veteran, Jacob watches helplessly as his neighbors in tiny Friendship, Wisconsin, are stricken with disease: simply hearing a mother say of her daughter, "She's sick," becomes chilling. Yet even as his wife and baby fall ill, Jacob patiently, dutifully tends to the helpless and buries the dead. When panic erupts, however, and he grapples with the tragedies accumulating before him, he feels the prick of spiritual doubt, even succumbs to violence. "Is this the devil's work?" Jacob asks as he struggles to discern the good in a world without order, watches those he serves turn against him, and disregards his own moral outrage.

O'Nan's style is taut and often oddly lovely, its immediacy braced by an unnerving second-person voice. The novel is, at root, spiritually terrifying. It forces us to consider at what remove we truly are from evil. Overwhelmed with checking his own despair, Jacob begins by pondering how to halt wickedness and ineluctably finds himself sustaining its slow creep. You wonder if he ever had a prayer. --Ben Guterson

About the Author:

Stewart O'Nan's first collection of stories, In the Walled City, won the Drue Heinz Literary Prize. He is the author of four previous novels, Snow Angels, The Names of the Dead, The Speed Queen, and A World Away. He lives in Connecticut.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780312428914: A Prayer for the Dying: A Novel

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  031242891X ISBN 13:  9780312428914
Publisher: Picador, 2009
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9780805061475: A Prayer for the Dying: A Novel

Henry ..., 1999
Hardcover

9781568958415: A Prayer for the Dying

Wheele..., 2000
Hardcover

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