New Bern, NC – INTRO - The Muses were, according to Greek mythology, goddesses who inspired literature and the arts. The inspiration for a Greenville resident's first novel however came from a more terrestrial source. George Olsen has more.
Score one for the radio
"I guess what led to it was it was maybe started with an interview I heard on NPR with a novelist, and he said everyone should try to write a novel."
Greenville resident Jim Metzger. But that author who moved him to write his first novel wasn't pushing the idea as a way toward fame and fortune.
"It's going to force you to face all kinds of issues you wouldn't otherwise face even though its fiction. So it gives you a chance to work out your ideas, figure out what you're passionate about, what it is you think you may know, what it is you believe, that sort of thing."
The end result for the ECU graduate student and Pitt Community College instructor is "Dim," a book that for people of faith puts to the test "what it is you think you may know." "Dim" tells the story of Tom Maloney, a young pastor fresh from divinity school at his first Methodist parish in a rural eastern North Carolina community who has to confront issues on several fronts including racism, familial abuse and homosexuality. In this scene from "Dim" Tom is conferring with Janet, a 42-year-old former physician who has moved back to her ancestral home in the fictional town of Harmony as she deals with the ravaging effects of MS.
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And that is the character of Tom in a nutshell plenty of difficult questions, not too many firm answers. But that's what the author was shooting for. Metzger has degrees in religion from three different schools and has taught religion at three different schools ECU included. At one of the stops Luther College in Iowa he taught a course he describes as part composition/part critical thinking that used reading as a starting point.
"But it struck me at one point that a few of the novels just weren't good conversation starters. There wasn't a lot of meat there to sort of keep things going for several hour long sessions. I thought wouldn't it be great to have a book that did that, that really opened these issues up and did more about raising questions than anything else than arguing for a particular viewpoint or world view or whatever."
But the congregants at Tom's church aren't too interested in questions. They want answers firm answers. As Jim Metzger writes in "Dim "
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And that prompts a degree of conflict between Tom and interests inside the church which parallels the author's own life. Metzger served as a pastor for a short period for two different Southern churches before deciding the ministry was not a good fit for him.
"I had some wonderful experiences in the parish, met some great people, but the pressures to sort of parrot back what the denomination stands for were too great. I was at the age where I was asking a lot of questions and I wanted to explore more. And I felt like once you got into a parish you sort of had to represent the denomination anywhere you went, you had to be the company man. You're the front man for the company and I wasn't ready yet to play that role, and so that's true of the narrator too. He's not even quite aware of that yet and may be stumbling into that insight late in the novel, but he's struggling with that too."
Metzger describes Tom Maloney as someone who believes he has faith at the beginning of the book and at the end still feels he does but may be questioning it a bit which in Metzger's view could be a good thing as he draws a parallel between his fictional character and some of the students he's taught over the years.
"But at the same time those who really do engage the questions thoughtfully and remain in conversation with their peers throughout the semester, they learn to own what they have so they're not simply believing what their parents told them or what their pastor said for 10 years, they really begin to own it and its theirs even if there is not that much there to believe anymore, what they do have is theirs and I think they take pride in that."
Metzger says his favorite part of the book is a chapter devoted to a conference that Tom Maloney attends regarding the Methodist church's view on homosexuality. A parade of people go to a microphone to address a panel and express diametrically opposite views on what the church's stance should be.
"I like that part of the book because you have both sides trying to state their case, and the narrator is just sort of recording this stuff and observing it, but no firm conclusions are reached on the matter at the end which I think allows a reader to sort of wrestle with the issue on their own. I think if an argument were made it would be less engaging. Essentially you're just throwing a lot of voices out there, putting them in a conversation and you're asking the reader to get mixed up in it and see where you come out."
Questions are raised and at the end of the day no answers are given but the conversation is underway, a good start in the author's mind. "Dim" by Greenville resident Jim Metzger is published by Aberdeen Bay. I'm George Olsen.