Knight's 'Divining Rod': truth of the heart

October 25, 1998|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

"Divining Rod," by Michael Knight. Dutton. 208 pages. $23.95.

It's good to be Michael Knight right now. He's just had his first novel, "Divining Rod," published simultaneously with a collection short stories ("Dogfight"). That's the kind of stunt that inspires better than average curiosity. Fortunately, "Divining Rod" is a far better than average novel.

Short and bittersweet, Knight's story begins in a way that almost assures a letdown: He kills off his protagonist. But the novel's ultimately satisfying conclusion is a testament to Knight's empathetic, deft storytelling.

Knight has a light touch even when he delves into the dark recesses of the heart. Simon Bell, his hapless young hero, is a lawyer living in his parents' house after their disturbing deaths, his father of natural causes, his mother, unnatural. He comes through these deaths as he has come through much of his life, unaware of how deeply he's been affected by them.

Though he's dallied with many women, he's never really loved one, and he's taken by surprise when he's drawn to his lovely neighbor Delia - who, as his mother was, is married to a much older man. Delia's husband, Sam, had spent much of his life pining over the woman he lost in his youth and vowed never to lose Delia. He, as we immediately discover, is the man who kills Simon.

So we know how it ends. But the point, and the pleasure, is in getting there, as Knight plays with time and point of view in unraveling the story. We see the transformation of Simon's heart; Delia's realization of her true feelings; Sam's desperation; and Simon's touching connection with the old lady who lives on his street, the crazy one who spends her nights on the neighboring golf course, divining for the gold her late husband said he buried there. She tries to teach Simon what she knows, "how it was supposed to work, that often the diviner had only to stand in one place long enough before something registered in him, a tremor, a hidden pulse, like a memory of magnetic attraction, and the divining rod set about leading him where he was supposed to go."

Knight's story is a caution against living in the past - against standing in one place like the diviner, seeking a ghost of a memory - but it also shows how dangerous living for the present can be. It's messy and tearful. But it's also the only way to find, and live, the truth of the heart.

The novel isn't perfect. Epigraphs before each section seem fussy for such a short book. And naming the two main male characters so similarly - Simon and Sam - can cause a bit of a muddle at first. But such complaints are tiny and do not mar the impression that this is a novelist who has a way with character and description, with enough to talent to let us hope he soon takes on a broader canvas.

Chris Kridler is assistant arts and entertainment editor at The Sun. Her work has appeared in The Sun, the Maryland Poetry Review, the Miami Herald, Premiere and elsewhere.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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