The Eighth Day

Feast of Nicephorous the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople
The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

The_Eighth_Day_Square.jpgWILDER WROTE The Eighth Day after a lifetime of scattered energy. Birthed during a concentrated twenty-month retreat in the southwest, it became what Wilder called his “only real novel.” It was, he said, as if Dostoevsky had reworked Little Women—set in a small American coal mining town. It is the story of two families, the Ashleys and the Lansings, whose histories become permanently intertwined when John Ashley is convicted of murdering Breckenridge Lansing. Ashley is silently rescued before the death sentence is carried out, and evidence proving his innocence eventually surfaces. The story unfolds in the wake of this scandal, as all the members of his family, as well as Lansing’s, eventually drift away from the town that represents their notoriety. Traveling back and forth in chronology through much of the narrative, we come to understand the roots of each family and the character of Coaltown. After the families depart, we follow their fates. In the successful lives of the Ashley children, and Ashley’s own dogged perseverance that leads him to prevail even in exile, Wilder explores his “principal idea,” one of persistent optimism. “Man is not a final and arrested creation,” he wrote, “but is evolving toward higher mental and spiritual faculties.” It is his confidence in the ability of humankind to transcend God’s seven-day creation that inspires the title, The Eighth Day. Though Wilder was guided by this Teilhardian vision rather than the original patristic understanding of the symbol, the novel it generated is a tour-de-force.

481 pp. paper $16.99

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