Book Review: Vengeance Follows examines forgiveness
Arden Hills, Minn.
Sam Koppang, a Norwegian American, moved from Chicago to Paris and there met the love of his life, Sophie. Her gentle spirit teaches Sam “about wine and how to write about it, about love and how to show it.”
While Sam is lost in his writing and giving thanks for his happy life with Sophie, she experiences returning headaches. Diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctor tells her this is a result of a previous trauma. Sophie traces that back to the time during her college years when she was raped and brutally ravaged by one of her college friends. After the rape she left college to recover over three months and never reported the incident. For her it was forgotten, a thing of the past. But now, both the pain and the memory have returned.
Knowing Sam needs to understand what is causing her illness, Sophie begins the conversation by sharing her happy days: childhood, college, piano, friends, and the excitement of moving into adulthood. Quietly, she continues by telling him of the horrific rape and its aftermath, begging Sam to let it go as she has, to forgive as she has forgiven.
As Sophie lies dying, Sam holds her close and promises to let go of the hate he feels and to live his life holding fast to the love he has known with her. But when he realizes Sophie is gone he also knows he cannot keep that promise.
Unable to stay in Paris, the city where the two of them lived their peaceful and loving lives, Sam packs up a few things, gives much away, and finds himself at the Salvation Army. Unable to hide his grief from the kind woman who gives him a room, Sam weeps uncontrollably in her arms and is comforted and given a warm place to sleep. The next day Sam moves to a quiet French village and there meets two friends. Sam lives in the village four years, growing older with grief that seems to have no end. His friends, wanting only to be friends, recognize the grief that consumes Sam and accept him without questions.
Sam’s friends, well versed in the qualities of wine, remind Sam that the soul of good wine can turn to vinegar, just as the soul of a good man can turn to hate. They recognize that Sam’s undying love for Sophie and the grief at her death have filled his heart with hate. He wants nothing more than to find and kill the man who raped Sophie.
Sam goes in search of Sophie’s rapist, Lee Clayborne, a man living a very successful life in a quiet village in America. Lee, an arrogant man, rich and confident in all that he does, is haunted by his own demons, years of being sexually abused by his father. His unforgiving anger lashes out in the horrific things he does to women, Sophie having been only one of his victims.
The tension that is built in the unraveling of this story holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. When Sam meets Lee one wonders, will the goodness Sam has come to know be enough to keep him from carrying out the vengeful action he has planned, or will his hatred win?
The author does not spare descriptions or feelings of either love or hate. Both reach into the core of our protagonist, Sam Koppang. The reader is drawn into the solitude of grief and the selflessness of friendship and wonders which will win.
The beautifully written novel was difficult to put down. Scott Lax, himself a Norwegian American, is a craftsman who has skillfully created this story by using word pictures that breathe life and meaning into love and hate, solitude and fellowship, loneliness and friendship.
Vengeance Follows was written over a 12-year period in the author’s life. His grandfather had lived in Stai, Norway, a city 10 km from Koppang, Norway, influencing his choice for Sam’s last name. He writes with a compelling simplicity, clarity, and drive that make it difficult to put the book down.
The author’s first novel, The Year that Trembled, was reviewed in the January 8, 2016, edition of NAW, and can be read at www.norwegianamerican.com/arts/book-review-a-haunting-novel. Both novels are available from publisher Gray & Company.
Rosalie Grangaard Grosch was born into a Norwegian/American family in Decorah, Iowa. A graduate of Luther College, she taught music and English in American schools, taught English and developed a team teaching program at Trinity School, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was a drama/music/English teacher at Balob Teachers’ College, Lae, Papua New Guinea and Activity Director/Consultant for a long term care facility in St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN. She is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul and has written numerous articles for publication.
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.