Some books entertain, and some make you think about something in a new way.
Some resonate, inject the mind with a bit of the truth that you never would have been gifted with, had you not read that book. And this is a very individual thing; a given book might be life-changing for me, but leave you wondering what the fuss is all about.
John Solomon Bain’s The Iron Way: A Narrative of Crisis resonated with me. Before I get into it, it’s important to note that Bain has recently read my book Sanity, and engaged with it at Man With a Purpose. As he said there:
Note: this is not a review. I don’t write reviews. This is a response. I don’t bother writing about books that aren’t worth reading.
I like the way he puts it. This, too, is not a review, but a response.
The Iron Way depicts a man, today, here in Current Year America, a man with the proverbial Wonderful Life. Material abundance, a good and loving wife, children, health. Yet, like many of us (for this is me, too) he has the feeling that:
[T]hings are not quite how they ought to be. But ultimately I am powerless to change the cosmic tide. The world is broken, and has been since the days of our sire. Even in ancient times you had writers like Hesiod who thought he lived in a fallen time, and looked back into the mists of legend and dreamt of a time when mortals lived freely with the gods.
It is a feeling, then, that men have had for a very long time, perhaps since they became men, as such. And yet, with universal literacy and technological change and the “easy life” we know now, the feeling only seems to have gotten stronger. When necessity and duty and tradition were the powerful principles governing human action there was little time for worry about whether things were as they ought be be, except for aristocratic intellectuals who could read and had time on their hands.
We are all, in effect, intellectuals now.
The narrator of The Iron Way “weep[s] for the stupidity of my existence” even as he drives to his beautiful home and his patient, loving wife, or to his professorship at the university, the work that he desired and strove for so many hours and years to obtain. Yet, at work he cannot really be himself, concealing his truths in conversations with politically correct colleagues. When and where can a man “be himself,” now, hunter, warrior, conqueror, killer? Not at university, almost nowhere in our unisex, equality-obsessed society.
But a man can write. There is one place, still, we’re truly, totally free; in our minds and in the words we write. Perhaps those words are not all for publication, but some of us burn to let the words out, and burn to share some of them, the right ones, with the world. The Iron Way is a book of the banality of modernity, of being a man in a feminizing culture, but at the root it’s a book about writing, the agony and the ecstasy of it.
I sit there, staring numbly at the cursor in the blank document for several minutes, My mind keeps wandering to the game I want to play. I wish I was more driven. I feel and overwhelming need to write that haunts me day and night, and has my entire life. I wake up in the middle of the night with fear of things left unwritten.
I feel the Dionysian spirit for a moment. The room begins to fade from consciousness as I write in a state of feverish madness. Time slips away. As I slide into the act of creation, I approach the Real.
The narrator talks elsewhere about his efforts to live the hard life, living in the woods like Thoreau, lifting heavy weights, but the real hard life, and his purpose, is to write.
There have been many good novels that explore the idiocies of modernity, the cancer of feminism, the crisis of “manhood,” but few have explored the writer, the writing life and why we do what we must do, as well as The Iron Way. There are other themes and nuances that I’ve not touched on here, but enough of writing about a man writing about writing. I invite you to read for yourself.