Saturday, January 28, 2023

"Come Forth as Gold" by Erica Dansereau

This book destroyed me.

Have you noticed the trend these days to say, "This book destroyed me!" like that's a happy and fun reaction to a book?  I don't understand that.  If a book puts me through an emotional wringer, if it has a good and satisfying ending, I may eventually be okay with all the stuff it did to me earlier, but I tend not to be like, "This book was so great!  It totally destroyed me!  I loved every minute!  You should read it!"  I find that a very weird reaction, honestly... and a very weird way to recommend a book. "Here, read this, it'll rip your heart into shreds."  Um, what?  (Also, amusingly, I've read a few books that other people had the "This book destroyed me!  I loved it!" reaction to, and they were just... books where people fell in and out of love a couple times?  They did not destroy me.  Hmm.)

Anyway, this book really did hurt to read.  Especially the first third.  Now, going into it, I could tell that if a book is going to have "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job. 23:10) as its motto thingie at the front, it's not going to be a light and joyful read.  But oof, I was not expecting so much hard, sad, depressing stuff to pile on top of other other hard, sad, depressing stuff for so long, in such an unrelenting way.  

In fact, I had to put the book down several times and read something else for the rest of the day.  Oddly, that was usually a hardboiled short story by Dashiell Hammett from a collection called Nightmare Town, and those felt positively cheery by comparison.  

Now, everything does get better eventually.  Slowly.  Hesitantly.  But it does.  I still wouldn't call this a book that I enjoyed, but I did appreciate it.  And I did finish it.  I think if you like intense, heavier books, you'd probably like it a lot.

It starts when thirteen-year-old Claude experiences two major losses back-to-back -- a death in the family, plus his lifelong best friend moving away.  The two losses are related, too, which makes it even worse.  Everything is grey and hopeless and horrible in his life for a long, long time.  As he grows up into a young adult, things gradually improve, and he even finds love and gets married by the end.  But the bleakness takes a long time to fade.

Also, there's a horse on the cover, but there's only a horse in the story for a couple chapters, and it gets very little page time.  It's symbolic, that's all.  That made me kinda sad.

Dansereau has a lot to say about grief and comfort, and I think the real point is supposed to be how the comfort we get from God is longer-lasting than anything we can try to get without Him.  But the Christian message was often oblique or subtext.  Yes, Claude goes and talks to a minister for a while.  A family friend gives him a Bible to read.  His dad tells him to "look to the cross" for comfort.  But the family doesn't attend church, Claude doesn't find the love and forgiveness of Christ as a source of comfort.  There's a conversation at the end about hope being the light in the darkness, but how and why we can hope in Christ is never really discussed, and I was left feeling unsatisfied by the faith-based elements of the book.

Now, if you enjoy books about people going through very hard, very difficult times, you would probably like this book.  Or if you have experienced deep grief like this and want to commiserate with someone fictional, maybe?

Particularly Good Bits: 

The map of grief.  It took a person on routes that sometimes made no sense at all (p. 191).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for occasional cussing and scatalogical words, some violence, and an unwed pregnancy resulting from a rape which is not shown on the page or described in detail.

This is my fifth book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.


  1. I hadn't heard of this book, but I have heard that line about "this book destroyed me." Good review!

    1. Thanks, Beauty! This book just came out a couple months ago, so it's pretty new.

      Yeah, "this book destroyed me" is alllll over the place these days. Kinda funny.

  2. Internet hyperbole is... really something at times. XD

    I'm with you; if a book truly destroys me in an emotional sense, then generally speaking, I did not enjoy that book. 0/10 would not recommend to a friend. I had at least one book last year that was a huge nope for me in that regard. "This sent me into a depression spiral, and no I do NOT think you should read it."

    1. Katie, haha! Yes, it is.

      This book did put my emotions through a wringer, but the building back up eventually did work. Just not balanced in the proportion that would get me to reread it. Like, some of my favorite books are emotional maelstroms -- Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Lord of the Rings, and The Outsiders all have absolutely crushing things happen to their heroes and heroines. But they all balance that crushing with times of respite where the characters can kind of rest, regroup, recharge, and then struggle on. I think that's very key.

      This definitely did not send me into a depression spiral (though I have read books that did), but like I said, I had to set it down a lot, reading just a chapter or two and then walking away for a while.

  3. After reading some reviews, I was a bit concerned about this book and decided to wait for your review. Alas, I think it is not for me - not a big fan of emotional wringers, intense, or heavy books.

    As for "this book destroyed me," I understand it as a way to describe an intense emotional reaction to a book, but I don't understand why the phrase itself is used as a recommendation. I may still recommend a book that "destroyed me," but I will explain that is an emotionally intense book.

    1. Roxann, this is definitely intense and heavy. Which isn't necessarily bad, in and of itself. I mean, I can immerse myself in Hamlet, kind of the epitome of intense and heavy, and I just come through it feeling gloriously refreshed. But it's not something every reader wants, and so... I don't unrecommend this book, because it's not a bad book at all. But it was not something I enjoyed.

      I do get what they mean, but I don't see why it's supposed to be a favorable way to recommend a story. ::shrugs::

  4. This is the very reason I haven't read this book yet. I think it would be good, but I'm not interested in the depressing and sadness of it. Maybe I'll still give it a try some time, but I have to really be ready for something like that.

    1. Hannah, I'm starting to wonder if I would have liked it better if I hadn't read it in the gloom of a snowless January. Maybe in July, I would have not found it quite such a downer. But I think the biggest part was, I didn't realize it was going to spiral so far down, and that kind of caught me unawares. I do think it's worth a read!


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