The spirit of want is what drives most of the primary characters in this literary fiction novel by William H. Coles. The beautiful, but deeply conflicted lawyer, Lucy, isn’t sure what she wants. But after she marries Luke, a doctor who wants Lucy from the day he meets her, she knows Luke isn’t what she wants. Lucy’s gentle and loving half-sister, Elizabeth, wants a husband and children. The girls’ mother, Agnes, wants a grandchild; their father, a top surgeon, wants money and status. And then there’s the charismatic preacher, Hower, whom Lucy is hired to defend in a rape case, who ends up bedding her to get what he wants: to escape imprisonment and ultimately regain his power and hold over his devoted followers. When Lucy succumbs to Hower’s power, all hell breaks loose in both her professional and personal life. She abandons Luke, her child, and her family, believing Hower will satisfy the spirit of want that drives her, only to have her wants, like her, die unfulfilled.
As in most of William H. Coles’ novels and short stories, the focus is always on the flaws and fragilities that make the mighty fall. This was the case with surgeons McDowell and Otherson in two of Coles’ other novels, and such is the case with Lucy in The Spirit of Want. Coles enjoys exploring the psyches and personality traits of those driven to succeed who reach the top. But, as is often said, once you reach the top, there’s only one way to go. So Coles fires on, showing readers how pride can destroy, and reminding us there is much to learn from others on that downhill slide. One of the difficulties readers encounter in reading The Spirit of Want and other novels by Coles is his tendency to address many different social, religious and political issues while telling the story. He does this by introducing lots of characters and situations as the story develops. While each of these situations and the accompanying exchange of ideas between the characters is interesting, and prompts readers to think about more than just the plot of the book, some readers may find these digressions distracting. Thankfully, since Coles’ primary writing device is dialogue, rather than narration, we are not distracted for too long before the plot leaps forward again.
In The Spirit of Want, one of the transitions in situations for which the reader was quite unprepared was Lucy, the lawyer, becoming sexually and romantically involved with Hower. In one chapter, after visiting with him to probe deeper into the rape allegations, she comes away disliking him with such intensity she hopes she never has to meet with him again. The next time the reader hears about Lucy and Hower, she has been disbarred for conduct unbefitting her professional role as a defence lawyer…and the reader had no idea they had even met again under any circumstances. That is enough to make readers flip back through the pages, wondering if they’d missed a chapter! One other element that makes The Spirit of Want, in fact all of Coles’ novels, interesting is what he reveals about what goes on behind the scenes in the medical profession. Knowing that Coles is himself a retired doctor, there’s no reason to believe that what he presents is merely creative fiction. It’s eye-opening and often not very nice at all. As in all the works of William H. Coles, there is much to learn about many things in The Spirit of Want.