An interesting and sometimes challenging read. The story is the emotional and spiritual journey of a man, as the title suggests, named Richard Kline, from childhood to middle age. There are some details about major events including travel and dating but the undeniable focus is on the internal story of Rick’s life.
I haven’t read any of Amanda Lohrey’s work before so I am not in a position to comment on the quality of the writing in comparison to other books but that will be rectified during the challenge. Additionally “A Short History of Richard Kline” is in a genre that I find hard to describe (‘Allegory’ maybe) and I am not very familiar with. If I had to draw comparisons it could be Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” crossed with “The Adventures of Christian Rosy Cross” or “The Glade Within the Grove” by David Foster. This book could easily be put into the over-arching category of ‘Literary Fiction’ but I am sure there is another more narrow category that would be more descriptive.
The book overflows with themes of science v religion, philosophy v psychology, reality v the imagined (both the imagination of dreams as well as the expected version of reality – what the world expects us to do, how to react, how to present ourselves) all of which swirl around the ideas of ‘who am I’ and ‘why am I here?’. Some of the characters appear to be uninterested in answering these questions, or perhaps already have answers that sit easily with their psyches or a pre-existing satisfaction with their lot in life. Other characters research, seek experiences or read extensively either in a search or to confirm their existing points of view. There were times that the latter was used a little too much – in the same way that some novelists want to squeeze every piece of research they have across into their novel, it sometimes felt like Lohrey was referencing every book she had read in relation to this one. It is a small point but I don’t think anything would have been lost by losing one or two mentions.
I am sure that much could be made about the protagonist being male but as I am not one, I am not in a position to comment on the accuracy of Lohrey’s presentation. And Rick Kline is in no way an everyman, at least in my experience, so I am not sure this specific example of masculinity could be extrapolated further than a limited group of people ie those like Rick. I am really happy to be shown to be incorrect on this, as I said I am not a man.
One choice I did find interesting was the use of first person as well as third person limited, points of view. Lohrey swapped between the perspectives every few chapters, in what was purported to be a memoir. The change was obvious, clunky even, and I am not sure anything was achieved by using the technique. A third person omniscient would have obviously given the narrator an ability to give insight into other characters and how they perceived or interacted with Rick but that option wasn’t available to the third person limited. Perhaps, given that Rick admits himself to be a poor narrator, it offers a more reliable perspective but I am not sure, given the difference between the two voices was negligible.
After reading the novel I am still not sure whether I like Rick but maybe that isn’t relevant or necessary. At some point surely we have all gone through stages of internal growth and while our decisions probably won’t be the same as Rick’s, the questioning and the search for answers is something many will be able to relate to.
This is a book that is certainly worthy of a read – especially if, like me, you don’t step into the genre often. It has the ability to challenge existing ideas about life and the universe but I read it cover to cover in a little over four hours so while stopping to meditate on some of the ideas may certainly appeal to some, at the same time it was an easy read. And the problems I have noted in relation to point of view and ‘over referencing’ are really only minor points and they won’t influence a reader’s overall appreciation of the story.