- Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, Pank, and Gargoyle #57, among others. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. Currently, I'm an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. I'm also working on two novels and a short story collection. In 2011, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Faith by Jennifer Haigh
These days perhaps few are surprised when they hear of a priest under suspicion of inappropriate behavior—similar stories have made headlines for a couple of decades now. In Jennifer Haigh’s new novel “Faith,” not only do we get the unexpected, but we get a layered, complex, and evocative tale with richly drawn characters as well.
Haigh’s character, Sheila McGann, tells us how her half-brother Art became one of the accused priests and how that accusation destroys his life. The author’s brilliantly controlled structure prevents us from receiving all the facts at once so that we can never be quite sure of how things really went down. Through most of the book we may be wondering, is Sheila’s recounting of what happened reliable? Is she forthcoming with all the information? Does she really know her brother? After all, the attention Father Art lavishes on a lonely boy with an often negligent mother could reasonably appear suspect given the history of similar transgressions within the church. We’re left wondering only until the moment Haigh decides to relieve us of that doubt in one stunning, illuminating scene which arrives near the end of the novel. This new revelation will alter perception of events that transpire before and after. Not all things are as they seem, and Haigh reminds us of this as she skillfully explores the meaning of faith and all of its nuances.
“Faith” is a remarkable novel, both for its strong rendering of place and the salt of the earth people who inhabit that place, and also for its invitation for us to think beyond our assumptions, maybe even discard them altogether. It’s a novel that will not only deliver answers, but will also leave the reader with deep, profound questions.
*Review first published in the July 17th edition of The Pilot.
When I first read the publisher’s introduction to Francisco Goldman’s “Say Her Name,” I have to admit I was distracted by the fact that the novel appeared to be more truth than fiction. Francisco Goldman really did lose his young wife, who was also a talented writer, to a horrible swimming accident while on vacation in their beloved Mexico. As I was reading, I kept wondering why not simply a grief memoir? Perhaps calling it fiction allowed Goldman the distance he needed to write of such a painful event, perhaps the author strayed from the facts here and there. Eventually, the beauty of Goldman’s lyrical prose convinced me to let go of my questions and trust the writer.
Goldman’s elegant precision in laying out details of the couple’s daily lives is impressive as is his use of metaphor and language. I was also impressed with the design of the book because it was after reading so many details, of the characters’ histories, desires, frailties, each detail described in an exacting, loving manner, that I felt I had come to know these people, thus making the tragedy of Aura’s death all the more affecting. Goldman doesn’t withhold, he freely admits to his failings and he keeps the reader guessing as to why Aura’s family would blame her husband for her death. “Say Her Name” is the perfect example of the kind of alchemy made possible with words and heart. By the time I’d finished, I realized Goldman had not simply written a story of grief, he’d written a love story.
*Review first published in the July 10th edition of The Pilot.
When Janusz Nowak boards the train to help Poland’s cause in the Second World War, he leaves behind his young wife, Silvana, and their infant son, Aurek. Soon after, the Germans invade Warsaw and Silvana is forced to flee with her child and find refuge in the woods.
Skip ahead a few years and the war is over, but its scars remain. Janusz has relocated to England with every intention of becoming a proper Englishman. Word of his wife’s and son’s survival compels him to send for them in the hopes they can all begin again as a happy family, far removed from Poland’s painful memories. Janusz realizes, however, that starting over isn’t as easy as he imagined when he’s confronted by the war’s changes on his wife and the fact his son is a wild and fearful creature he hardly recognizes.
The premise was intriguing enough to entice me to pick this one up, but Amanda Hodgkinson offers so much more as life-altering secrets held by both Janusz and Silvana are revealed and new complications arise. The narrative is spare and beautiful, and the story, utterly captivating. Alternating between past and present in the voices of Janusz, Silvana, and their fascinating son, Aurek, Hodgkinson has written a complex tale of loss and recovery, love and redemption.
*Review first printed in the June 5 edition of The Pilot.