This is Klein’s one and only novel and is essentially an expansion of his novelette “The Events at Poroth Farm,” reviewed last week. That terse description doesn’t quite do this novel justice because it takes a long short story and transforms it into a 500+ page novel, adding not just backstory but entire new plots, sub-plots, and detail throughout.
Elements that are greatly expanded:
- Background on how Jeremy and the Poroths met, including a first visit that Jeremy made to their farm almost two months prior to his stay on the farm.
- The “Old One,” an extremely old man from the Poroths’ community—like, a supernaturally long-lived man—who sets everything in motion.
- The addition of a major female character, Carol Conklin, a virginal young woman who had been a novice in a Catholic religious order before deciding that she didn’t want to be a nun, and who is now trying to live on her own in New York as she struggles on a part-time librarian’s salary.
Interestingly enough, while we see a lot more of Jeremy’s interactions with all the other characters, rather than just reading some of his journal entries, I don’t think he becomes much better known to the reader, and he’s certainly not more likable. On the contrary, in his interactions with the residents of Gilead, he comes off as a bit of a smug oaf, and his failed efforts to hook up with one of his hot female students aren’t exactly endearing.
There were definitely a number of places in the novel that I wondered if the added detail was worth it. “The Events at Poroth Farm” was such a tightly-written, dense story that I’m not quite sure that we needed as much added detail as we got here. Part of the issue is that The Ceremonies is not just a novel, but it’s a long novel. A taut, 250-300 page novel might have added some richness and sub-plots to the story framework without slowing it down. And to be sure, the novel is a slow burn. Klein is a great writer with an eye for detail that really makes his characters and settings come alive, so it doesn’t feel like a slog, but you have to be patient. For example, when Carole Conklin first visits Poroth Farm, she gets delayed in traffic, gets lost, has to ask for directions, and reflects on the scenery, but I think the only actual part of that several-page passage that we needed was when Sarr’s mother sees Carole pass by, she realizes that Carole is the redheaded woman referenced in a prophecy. So that’s just a single example of a spot where we get a lot of new details that aren’t strictly needed to advance the plot.
Having said all that, Klein is a masterful, under-rated writer–my only complaint is that he isn’t more prolific.