4. For Such a Time as This, Reflections on A STONE FOR BREAD: The Slippery Slope

In my last post (see post here), A Stone for Bread‘s protagonist American Henry Beam and several American friends attend a rally in mid-1950’s Paris for a buffoonish right wing French politician, Renard Marcotte. Expecting to be amused, Henry finds himself surprisingly stirred by the man’s rhetoric.

From the novel: “There was little logic to his speech, and fewer facts—the stock accusations of the right: communists in the government, burdens of taxation, evils of socialism. He even threw in a jab at unidentified Christ haters. The longer he spoke, the more his voice gathered fire. He closed his eyes and jerked his arms high in the air—staged, clumsy gestures, yet Henry experienced the man’s power as he lunged from the podium and bent toward the first row of listeners, his face in their faces.”

 

Afterwards, when Henry’s friend Bert Yeager, a stringer for the Associated Press, arranges to interview Marcotte, Henry tags along and finds himself in the midst of a brawl between Yeager and Marcotte’s rambunctious bodyguards.

Henry felt the heat in him ignite. These men were bullies, hooligans, like the farm boys back home. He hated them. He stepped into the room, decked one and grabbed another off Yeager to pull his friend free. Two of the young men jumped him. He slung them away, flailed and slammed them with his fists. Blows hit him in the side, on the back of his head, but he kept hitting back…”

 

When Marcotte enters the room, the fight stops. Henry, the bookish poet who had ignored the taunts of local boys during his impoverished childhood, is euphoric. For the first time in his life he’s fought back. Yet he is soon involved with these very men, tugged deeper into Marcotte’s brutish world through his love affair with the Parisian shopgirl Eugénie, a Marcotte disciple. On a night when Henry joins the bodyguards at an outdoor plaza where Marcotte is speaking, the rally is interrupted by rioting.


“Henry’s heart beat wildly. His side ached and he gasped for air. His feet pounded the concrete. The pavement jarred his legs as if to shove him along faster. He slid a brick from his pocket and hoisted it, sent it in the direction of the fleeing rioters. His last brick he kept tight in his right hand, until rounding a corner he let it fly—toward a wide glass front of a butcher shop. He raced to catch up with the others, the shattering glass in his ears like bells. He had never been so happy.”