December 11, 1845, and the United States has declared war on Mexico. In Boston, James R. Lowell published a poem; the first stanza of which went:
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side; Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight, And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.
It was a stirring call to the conscience of every citizen, one which was soon set to music and is still sung in churches throughout America. The message was clear: we, all of us, have to make choices about right and wrong, about good and evil.
It is a recurring question in theology, philosophy, and religion: Where does evil come from? How does evil exist in the world?
In her fine new book, The Wheel’s Final Turn, Monica Brinkman reminds us of that question, of that hymn, and of that basic moral responsibility.
Brinkman’s approach is Manichean. In her world-view, evil coexists with good and is in constant and deliberate war against kindness, compassion, and concern. Darkness creeps around the edges of life, takes over souls, and inflicts pain and punishment on those who are decent. Against that darkness stands a small band, not a team of superheroes but a small cohort of intuitives and sensitives, people who can sense the coming of evil and whose goal it is to offer protection and salvation for its victims.
The power of Monica Brinkman’s speculative fiction comes in part from her use of believable characters. She brings the battle to live using such characters as a politician who also plays guitar, a spokesperson for beauty products, a dogcatcher, a psychiatrist, a retired man who likes to whittle, little girls who like ice cream and play. She takes these ordinary characters and transubstantiates them into a powerful reminder that we must all be ever aware of “that darkness and that light.”