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Spring Edition
Volume 97, Number 4

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Larry Lake
A life understood backwards

Charles Baxter’s novels and stories are rich in characterization, crisp dialogue, and clearly drawn environments. In First Light he experiments with the order in which a story is told, justifying this unusual narrative style with a quotation from Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Dorsey Welch’s birth is described in chapter 31, her baptism in chapter 30, her first steps in chapter 29. Later in her life—told of course, in earlier chapters—Dorsey becomes an astrophysicist, survives an abusive relationship, and returns home for a summer visit. One of the enduring perspectives in this story is that of Dorsey’s brother Hugh, whose love and appreciation for her are evident in his attentiveness to her despite all the turmoil in his own life. Sometimes, of course, experimental techniques in storytelling can become mere gimmickry; Baxter’s artistry keeps this one from that fate.

—Larry Lake is an associate professor of English.

Larry M. Lake has taught writing at Messiah College since 1984 and earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he conducted pioneering research on the teaching of writing in New Guinea literacy education. He met the author Charles Baxter while at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2003, where Baxter was reading drafts of his then-unpublished novel Saul and Patsy, and conferring with other writers. “I have found Messiah College a comfortable place in which to expand and deepen my many interests,” Larry says. “Here at the College, I’ve often been encouraged to broaden my reading and teaching into the fields of anthropology, ethno-botany, and literatures of the Pacific Islands.”

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