Thinking about “Peace” I’m reminded of an interview in which Wolfe said that (I’m paraphrasing) “Catholicism teaches that all the old gods are real, but we shouldn’t worship them”. This may seem odd, but another aspect of Catholicism is the “Catholic Imagination” which says that our imaginations allow us to understand God’s existence; without it, the idea of “god”—any god really—would be beyond us. To a Catholic, Christianity and more generally monotheism are struggling for a place in the human imagination against the old gods, paganism, and polytheism.
Wolfe explores this struggle in “The Devil in a Forest” and “Castleview”. The same ideas appear in “Peace” in a more personal way. Wolfe became a Catholic in preparation for marrying his wife and “Peace” is about what his life might have been if he had never met her.
Though Wolfe encountered the influential power of the imagination through the church, Weer encounters it through his dealings with Louis Gold who through his writing is allied with paganism. His work attempts to establish necromancy as part of an actual historical record. “The Lusty Lawyer” and the Boyne diary are not in this category, but every other Gold book that Weer remembers is. I suppose you can believe that Gold is only in it for the money, but the pride he takes in his work belies that, I think.
Weer, who’s not concerned with fact-checking, begins applying his imagination to his memories, but the result is a confusing muddle, full of contradictions and absurdities. Why? Because he’s only trying to avoid pain. He has no deeper values, no solid principle around which to organize the meaning of his life. He simply has no morals, no structure to support a meaningful life.
By the end of chapter four, it should be pretty clear that Weer is a ghost. The tree that fell at the beginning of the book is the one planted by Bobby Black’s aunt, Eleanor. This sort of tree-planting was once similar to the gravestone that traps the Bell Witch; the tree was meant to prevent Weer from becoming a wandering spirit. Since the tree is so large, he’s obviously been kept in place for a very long time. Where has he been in all that time? For a Catholic, the standard answer is “Purgatory” where, like the Chinese soldier in Vi’s story, he’s been cycling through his life endlessly. “Peace” is just one run-through of a process he’s been doing for decades, the story changing a little each time. Will he ever get to the everlasting peace that is one of Christianity’s great promises? Wolfe leaves that decision to the reader.