The kernel of this literary biography, the force that makes it rise above a mere re-telling, is Paul Elie's focus on the incarnational work of journey as the stuff of salvation. Borrowing his title from one of Flannery O'Connor's well-known short stories, Elie converges the lives of four practicing Catholic writers -- named by a friend ''the School of the Holy Ghost''and including O'Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Walker Percy -- in order to flesh out the ways their lives, through their writing, have the capacity to save our own. In Elie's estimation (paraphrasing literary critic James Wood) ''the decline of the Bible's authority in the nineteenth century coincided with the rise of the modern novel, which aspired to have something like a religious authority over the reader.'' Amidst this shift in modern thinking, many believed the literary scene lacked writers who lived the visions they wrote. Elie lucidly reveals (even persuading us along the way) that ''like it or not, we come to life in the middle of stories that are not ours. The way to knowledge, and self-knowledge, is through pilgrimage. We imitate our way to the truth, finding our lives -- saving them -- in the process. Then we pass it on.''
An Eighth Day View:
The story of four modern American Catholics who made literature out of their search for God
In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them-in works that readers of all kinds could admire. "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" is their story-a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk in Kentucky; Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker in New York; Flannery O'Connor a "Christ-haunted" literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy a doctor in New Orleans who quit medicine to write fiction and philosophy. A friend came up with a name for them-the School of the Holy Ghost-and for three decades they exchanged letters, ardently read one another's books, and grappled with what one of them called a "predicament shared in common."
A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story; and in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" Paul Elie tells these writers' story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life. It is a story of how the Catholic faith, in their vision of things, took on forms the faithful could not have anticipated. And it is a story about the ways we look to great books and writers to help us make sense of our experience, about the power of literature to change-to save-our lives.