Until I had some time on my hands not many good books (read "high-profile") to read in English for entertainment while living overseas, and _The Eighth Day_ came through my hands, Thornton Wilder was just "a 20th century middle american white male traditionalist," to me, a result of over-exposure to the clinically edited versions of "Our Town," presented to us in school and on the big and small screens. The title itself, "The Eighth Day," confounded me and caused me to bypass the book whenever I saw it, thinking it was "a war novel," confusing it with "The Longest Day."
I settled down to give it a go and was unable to put it aside. When I finished reading it, I said -- as it encompassed so many places with a unifying sense of metaphysical connections -- "Look no further. This is it: The Great American Novel. I don't know what the fuss has been about, 'oh who could we pick?'. . . 'it has not yet been written. . .'
Clearly it has been, and has been languishing on library shelves throughout all the bloodless PG-PC interpretations of "Our Town," to which we have been subjected, all in the hopes that the bland versions introduced to us we intrigue us enough to read more on our own. "Our Town" has been presented as our 'been there, done that' exposure to Thornton Wilder:'" a grave disservice, perhaps an intentional burying of a thoughtful, perceptive, and persuasive -- not to mention very very hip -- author under layers of one-size-fits-all theatre.
If you haven't read it, do. It is the kind of book that comes back in bits and pieces -- in scenes remembered as one's own experiences are -- over the years.
Looking at the reviews here already, I was surprised to see that all of us who thoroughly enjoyed reading this book have such close similarity of responses: "candidate for great american novel," "sadly neglected," "memorable," inspiring . . . .
It is a book that is hard to describe, as it is an experience that takes hold in the reader, an experience of scenes we think perhaps were ones we have been in, somewhere, sometime, or of which we have somehow a deeply felt/remembered knowledge.
I don't read many American authors, preferring British authors with a mention for the Booker Prize. Thornton Wilder does it for me -- perhaps closest to Somerset Maugham, yet wholly American (and here we should not be envisioning a flag-waving bumper sticking "patriot"). It is that part of what is really American (forget the pumpkin pies and turkey) that survives in spite of all efforts to eradicate its soul.
The title, _The Eighth Day_, becomes easier to remember and less likely to be confused with "a war novel" when we consider that yes, "on the seventh day, God rested," and all time since then has been the Eighth Day of creation, one in which man -- Kerouac's "Desolation Angels" -- is to be making the most of what has been given him to work with, his purpose in living, acting, working, as another put it, to define God to himself.