It is rare to come across a novel that not only tells a fascinating story, but has taken a fascinating journey on its own. The Eternal Wonder, this elegant, quiet, and patient novel about an artistic genius's psychological and emotional development, was only recently discovered in a storage unit in Texas, forty years after Buck died in Vermont. And we should all be supremely grateful for that discovery, for Buck's final(?) novel anchors and broadens an already esteemed body of work, one that won her the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938.
From its opening pages, The Eternal Wonder stands out from most other novels of its kind. After all, not many begin in utero, the reader invited to feel and learn and grow along with the fetus (the protagonist) up through birth and beyond. Buck thus influences our attachment to Rann Colfax, as if asking us to view him as our own child, watching him develop inside and outside the womb, becoming the genius and artist that he is meant to be.
At the heart of this novel is Rann's constant curiosity and drive to know everything about the world and the people in it. From his hometown in Ohio, he journeys to Europe and Asia, meeting men and women who make him reevaluate the assumptions about human nature that he had gleaned from books. We make the journey with him and see his parents, grandfather, lovers, and friends through the prism of his analytical and critical mind. Lady Mary and Donald Sharpe teach Rann about sex and desire; Stephanie Kung and her father teach him about artistic and familial reverence; and his father, above all, teaches him to view the world with an open mind, a mind that absorbs, analyzes, and always wonders. From the beginning of his life, books provided him with the mental nourishment he sought, for he realized early on that "[b]ooks he would always learn from, for people, great people, put the best of themselves into books" (135). Not surprisingly, he ultimately discovers that he is meant to be a writer.
The Eternal Wonder is the kind of novel that makes you want to knock your head against the wall repeatedly because you realize that you must now add dozens more novels to your To Read list (for Buck published many novels, as well as nonfiction, during her lifetime). Until this novel, I had only read Buck's The Good Earth, but I shall remedy that as quickly as possible.