How the Body Prays
By Peter Weltner '64
Peter Weltner is the author of several books of fiction, including The Risk of His Music and In a Time of Combat for the Angel. He has received two O. Henry Awards and his work was featured in Best American Gay Fiction Volume 3. Weltner grew up in North Carolina.
In this southern family saga, Drew names his son Aaron Rose for his almost-lover in New York; Aaron's brother Andy drops off the edge of the earth after Aaron's death and his own injury in Southeast Asia; two sisters wait and work the dairy farm; and matriarchal grandmother rules with a precision reminiscent of the Bach sonatas she performs on her grand piano. But those characters are just the principals in a story that really spans decades, generations, and continents. Weltner's personae address the reader in individual monologues that are not presented in the chronological order of the novel's events. Different people from different generations and centuries speak, and the theme of courage predominates: courage triumphing over fear in Civil War times, World War II, and Vietnam and its aftermath. Weltner keeps the action moving as he shifts from voice to voice, era to era, one generation's social consciousness to another's--a remarkable achievement with so large a cast of complex characters caught up in conflicting demands and loyalties. --Whitney Scott
From Kirkus Reviews
A cleanly written multigenerational story that chronicles one family's disintegration as the outcome of its pride and suffering. Narrated by eight different voices, Weltner's fourth work of fiction (The Risk of His Music, 1997, etc .) is remarkably seamless, his complex account constructed and supported by each of eight links in a narrative chain. The saga is a melancholy one: the Odom family has always lived according to rigidly demanding rules, usually summed up in a Latin phrase. Drew Odom, however, violates one such precept by having two sons, Aaron and Andy. Aaron, an accomplished musician and a '60s-era pacifist, is his father's favorite, while Andyproud and combativeseems to be his grandmother's darling. After Andy enlists for the War, Aaron reluctantly follows; though Aaron is killed, Andy survives his own wartime wounds to wander from job to job in the States, torn by his guilty failure to live up to Odom standards. Although a passion for the music of Wagner, Bach, and Bloch has always formed a part of Odom life, Andy harbors a ``tin ear.' Only after he takes a lover and is reconciled with his brother's Vietnamese wife and son does he truly begin to heal. The tale culminates when he arranges a performance of music written by Aaron Rose, the friend from his father's youth for whom his brother was named. The Odoms unrelenting standard of duty and courage turns out to be a measure of its failure. While Weltner isnt the most commanding observer of musical experience, musics virtue as redemption is made clear, even if readers may not be sufficiently convinced to share in the comforts through which the family finds relief. Weltner is a fine writer, and his narrative range is impressive. But while there are several moving moments, his colorless descriptions of musicthe Odoms spiritual balmmake the redemptions seem distant.