Blythe: A Novel
John E. Kramer
In the spirit of Pilgrim’s Progress or Till We Have Faces, Blythe draws readers into an unfolding human drama while gradually revealing broader insights into the human condition. It is an allegory that serves as a warning and a message of hope.
Blythe, the eponymous protagonist, is beautiful, winsome and an accomplished artist. Beneath this facade, however, is an inexplicable, gnawing emptiness she suppresses through painting, nightly parties and the affection she receives from others, particularly her handsome beau, Aaron.
When troubles begin to afflict some of the less-than-savory inhabitants of the village, few take notice. After all, these are outcasts, people who, presumably, are reaping what they’ve sown. Like the inhabitants of Vanity Fair, Blythe and her companions are so absorbed in pleasure-seeking they fail to see what’s lurking in the shadows.
But when these ghastly, life-altering circumstances begin to directly impact the beautiful and well-regarded in the community, there is a dawning realization that complacency and self-righteousness brought them to this fate.
The folly of apathy and the sin of omission are recurring themes in Blythe. In a mini-preface to the book, author John Kramer posits that “One of mankind’s greatest sins is inaction in the face of injustice.” Over the course of Blythe’s pilgrimage she discovers that simple acts of human kindness and engagement can transform lives — and undermine the forces of darkness.
A priest who slowly comes to the same realization rebukes a smug parishioner who is content to see sinners suffer the consequences of their sins. “Human action is God’s will, not blind indifference in the face of suffering,” the priest proclaims. “This is no different than any other struggle in the history of mankind. It is a fight between good and evil, between freedom and captivity, between life and death, and I will not stand idly by when I can help.”
That said, Kramer is no advocate of coercive measures to accomplish good things. The importance of individual liberty, of pursuing goodness over greatness, permeates the book. A teacher who befriends Blythe explains, “I always stressed to my students the importance of thinking for themselves, of not being led solely by a book, or a teacher, or a ruler, but rather to take in all of these and more to make your own decisions. Every manmade disaster begins when one man thinks for another. However benevolent they begin, the ultimate outcome is tyranny.”
It is no small feat to convey profound and provocative truths in a novel without becoming preachy, manipulative or overbearing. Yet Kramer manages to weave in timeless insights again and again in ways that will cause a thoughtful reader to pause and reflect.
So consider yourself forewarned. Blythe is a compelling story that will challenge your suppositions about life and how you live it.
Michael Jahr serves at the Vice President of Outreach and Special Projects at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.