Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: Unfinished Cathedral by T.S. Stribling

I believe I Mooched this copy of the third installment in Stribling's epic trilogy of the Vaiden family and their story that spanned about sixty years of great change in the South.  This book follows Jerry Catlin, who is now a Methodist preacher, as he returns to Florence, the scene of his boyhood love for Sydna Crowninshield, now married to Miltiades Vaiden.  Milt has arranged for Jerry to return to the local church, mostly to accomplish the building of the titular cathedral, where Milt hopes to be laid in state when he passes away.  Jerry is an interesting sort of preacher, and I was frankly surprised that he chose that path in life, given his period of atheism in the last book.  His attitudes and beliefs are a little liberal for what I would expect of a Southern preacher in the 1920's.  The book covers a lot of territory:  Jerry is still kind of in love with Sydna; Milt and Sydna now have a daughter, Marsan, who gets pregnant by a local boy; six African-American boys are put on trial for the alleged rape of a white girl, and almost lynched by a mob, but the lynching is stopped by Milt, who remembers the lynching of his own son years before; there is a real estate boom on in Florence, which Milt is skeptical of; the boom eventually busts and leaves just about everyone in Florence penniless, which eventually leads to Milt's death; Marsan weds her teacher, with whom she is actually in love, to avoid the shame of being an unwed mother; and Jerry weds the church organist, Aurelia, to get over his love for Sydna (it doesn't work).

I enjoyed this last portion of the trilogy very much.  The criminal trial of the six boys was a major part of the middle of the book and, due to my profession, I found it very interesting.  The various romantic entanglements of the Vaidens and their extended family were amusing, as well.  I especially liked the forward-thinking Marsan as a character.  I wish I had the brainpower tonight to discuss the symbolism of the unfinished cathedral (Milt's life?) and get into the deeper issues presented by this book, but I'm tired.  I do wish Stribling had told us the outcome of the rape trial...did it ever finish?  What was the verdict?  And there is a passing reference at the end of the book that seems to indicate that Jerry's wife, Aurelia, was murdered.  Was she?  How did Jerry react to that? 

Overall, four out of five Whatevers.  Everyone should read this trilogy.  It should be taught in schools for its interesting viewpoint of the South, from the Civil War through the Great Depression.  I highly recommend all three of the books.  I'm holding on to them, in case I want to re-read them in the future.