Don Wanderhope grows up in a Dutch Calvinist family, but his father is a searcher, always questioning the tenets of his faith and the meaning of life. Don's life progresses through a series of traumas: his older brother dies of pneumonia; Don develops tuberculosis; his girlfriend at the sanitarium dies of tuberculosis; and, later, his wife commits suicide. Despite all this, however, there is one shining ray of hope and love in Don's life--his daughter Carol. By the time she turns 11, father and daughter are inseparable pals.

At this point Carol develops leukemia. At first they think it is strep throat and she responds to antibiotics: "She feels a lot better. Give her another day or two and you can take her home. But, anyhow, we've eliminated everything serious." (p. 165) But shortly thereafter, while father and daughter are on vacation in Bermuda, she becomes severely ill again, and soon the diagnosis of leukemia is confirmed.

This begins many weeks of progressive spiritual suffering for Wanderhope, as his daughter suffers terrible physical symptoms and medical interventions. He is reduced to bargaining with God, and to begging at the shrine of St. Jude: "Give us a year." Initially, his prayers seem to be answered as Carol responds to chemotherapy, but then she develops sepsis and dies, "borne from the dull watchers on a wave that broke and crashed beyond our sight." (p. 236)

After Carol's death, Wanderhope vents his anger at God and becomes overwhelmed with grief. However, months later, when going through Carol's things in preparation for selling the house, he discovers an audiotape that Carol had made during her illness, a message that she had left for her father: "I want you to know that everything is all right, Daddy. I mean you mustn't worry, really . . .

(You've given me) the courage to face whatever there is that's coming . . . " (p. 241) The tale ends with Wanderhope's final reflection: "Again the throb of compassion rather than the breath of consolation: the recognition of how long, how long is the mourner's bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship, all of us, brief links, ourselves, in the eternal pity." (p. 246)


Peter De Vries was known for his comic novels, which contain many wonderfully funny one liners; for example: "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be," "Life is a zoo in a jungle," "My father hated radio and could not wait for television to be invented so he could hate that too," "The murals in restaurants are on par with the food in museums," Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us," "I was thinking that we all learn by experience, but some of us have to go to summer school," "We must love one another, yes, yes, that's all true enough, but nothing says we have to like each other," and "It is the final proof of God's omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us." (See

Perhaps The Blood of the Lamb is so unlike De Vries's other novels because the story is based on a tragedy that occurred in the author's own life (noted in Chapter 1, p. 3 of God, Medicine, and Suffering, by Stanley Hauerwas--see annotation in this database). The final quotation--that God need not exist to save us--comes very close to the heart of The Blood of the Lamb. Or perhaps the reverse is true--that God need not save us to exist? While The Blood of the Lamb does have its share of funny moments, this is definitely not one of Peter De Vries's comic novels.

There is something Job-like about Don Wanderhope, who wanders through life hoping, in spire of the many losses that befall him. Wanderhope is a good man who seeks God; he doesn't have an evil bone in his body. Yet, one after another, everyone he cares for dies an early death, including, at last his beloved daughter. The more he seeks God, the more God withdraws. In the intensity of his grief, Wanderhope fails to discover the "breath of consolation," but rather he discovers, "the throb of compassion." He experiences the oneness of being, which is the "eternal pity."


Little, Brown

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