Friday, May 12, 2017

INTO THE SILENCE

Border Press has produced many "first novels," and its latest, Into the Silence by John Gibson, is among the press's growing list of excellent fiction writers who base their work in southern locales. Gibson, a physician who spent over thirty years on the faculty of an academic medical center in Mississippi, sometimes speaks of his novel as a "medical novel," but I think that Into the Silence could be called a "metaphysical novel" and reveals that Gibson, an Episcopalian, has spent a lifetime of study about esoteric religions, including his own Anglican church roots.

Gibson gives the reader a substantive view of a state that has produced some of the finest writers in the U.S. One of his characters, a farmer, provides readers with well-crafted passages about "connecting with something that's bigger than the soil, bigger than the ground you're working on...Some people say it's people who make history. But I think it's the land — it's the land and the rivers that make all the difference...take the Mississippi Delta, for instance: just by being there the Delta enticed man to dig in its soil, to cut and shape the land to suit man's needs...by just choosing to live in the Delta instead of the hills, man was shaping himself, his culture, his politics, his ability to earn and spend money..."

Gibson knows his region, as well as the politics of hospital administration and swiftly propels the reader into a story set in the emergency room of a bustling hospital where readers meet Dr. Todd Sutherland and his patient, Anna Chadwick, who suffers from Ebstein's Anomaly, a ventricular dysfunction. It's Christmas Eve and Sutherland is standing in for another physician; the woman is beautiful and charming, and the scene seems primed for an unlikely romance. However, beneath the surface of Sutherland's obvious attraction to Chadwick, lie questions related to life and death that take the reader into issues far deeper than the introduction of a romance. Sutherland becomes a frequent visitor at the bedside of Chadwick, and ultimately she undergoes a surgery. When she enters into a coma, Sutherland begins sitting with her, and during the vigil at her bedside, he undergoes a dark night of the soul, pondering where her soul must be as it relates to the difference between life and death. As the story progresses, he is accused of shutting off her respirator and endures an ethics trial.

Sutherland, in a state of grief, wrecks his car in New Orleans and ends up in Ochsner's Hospital where he experiences a state of consciousness near death and begins to probe the condition of his soul: "I moved through the walls and out in the open air and even more quickly rushed through a kind of tunnel and out an opening at the other end. While I came out of the tunnel, I could see a bright light. When I moved toward the light, a figure came into view..." The man is identified as Parmenides, an ancient healer who heals by prophecy and informs Sutherland that since he is a healer, he needs to learn to go "into the silence." Sutherland begins a study of Parmenides with a New Orleans professor who suggests that the physician put himself in a trance called Orphic Shamanism to contact the Divine for the purpose of healing.

Gibson's knowledge of Greek literature, Christianity, shamanism, meditation practices, philosophy, and metaphysics is extensive, and he interweaves these subjects into a suspenseful storyline without becoming didactic. Characters emerge from his medical background showing his adeptness at creating authentic personalities, and his extensive knowledge of healing — ancient and contemporary forms — strongly suggest the quality of care this compassionate, well-intentioned professional practiced during his career as a physician and teacher.

Gibson also rendered the pen and ink cover image of Into the Silence that is one of many works of art he has created and exhibited in Jackson, Mississippi as part of his lifework. Several years ago, he provided the pen and ink pointillism drawings in Illuminate, a book of poetry by his daughter Margaret Simon that communicates the beauty and mystery of the manifestation of God in the world. He also received an award in the 2012 Annual Cedars Juried Art Exhibition.

A Renaissance man actively working in retirement, Gibson is another author who joins Mississippi's impressive gallery of writers and artists.

Order from Border Press, P. O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375 or amazon.com
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