Deepen your Lenten Reflection with these stories of Repentance & Forgiveness
When an old man dies his daughter must trace her family tree to find the ability to forgive him.
An old man is dying in the small town of Loti, Texas. His daughter, middle child Gracey travels back to her hometown to say her goodbyes and help her siblings with the funeral. While she and her siblings struggle with the resentments of a childhood under an alcoholic, emotionally distant father and a runaway mother, Gracey finds herself drawn to the family Bible she finds in her father’s old roll top desk. Within this old holy book is a tree, chronicling her family history. As Gracey recounts her ancestor’s journey from famine-stricken Ireland to the frontier coast of Texas she learns to forgive her parents and herself for wounds that are far more ancient than she first expected.
Collins story evokes for me a modern day retelling of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke. Collins could be the 21st century daughter searching throughout her life to find independence and self-worth. It is no surprise that she refers to herself in that way as she finds herself reverting to her Catholic faith in the second part of her memoir.
“Like the prodigal daughter, I had returned, and the Father ran out to embrace me.”
The purpose of the parables of Christ was to illustrate a powerful and spiritual lesson. This too is Collins’ purpose as she directly addresses the reader frequently to show her desire for others to benefit from her experiences. There is no doubt that the challenges she faced throughout her life are relatable and genuine. Reading the life of Marianne illuminates, in a society of promiscuity and immorality, the true meaning of the son who finally acknowledges how much better life is with his father at home.
Young Adult / Science Fiction / Romance
Unclaimed, Nameless and Vanished are three novellas that retell the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte in a near future America corrupted by biotech, cloning and other crimes against the theology of the body.
I have often reflected that if Jane Eyre were to be set in modern times she would have to be Catholic instead of Anglican for the story to follow the same structure as it does in the original, but what author could have the talent for capturing Bronte’s beautiful prose?
Erin McCole Cupp apparently.
Move over Dr. House, Medical Examiner Jane Wallace has your number! Mystery genre books have two basic goals: to tell an intriguing mystery uncovers not only a crime but also to reveal deeper reality about the story world or a about the sleuth themselves. All too often have I seen a book that accomplishes the first point but forgets about the second, resulting in the most common complaint about the mystery genre, that the characters are too often flat and shallow. These characters are anything but flat. In fact, this is a book that took me on an emotional ride and made me examine my own past grudges and conscience.
Romance / General Fiction
When she gains the unexpected but welcome attention of the cute older French guy in her Kant to Kierkegaard class, Annette slowly starts to make all the wrong decisions that a good Christian girl shouldn’t make. And yet as her life spins further and further out of control, she finds herself growing as a person. It’s a bit like a Christian version of the movie Juno. Annette makes all the wrong decisions, but eventually learns from her mistakes and with the grace of God, finds her way to a better life. Grace is a constant theme through the story as Annette’s sins lead her to appreciate more deeply how much she needs saving.
There is a rare genre with a long German name. A “bildungsroman” is a story that is mainly concerned with the maturation and growth of a main character. Of course, there are elements of this in every genre and story ever written, but what defines this genre is that its structure isn’t bound up in surviving one single transition in childhood or in achieving some intense but short term goal, but in the maturation of the whole person. How Sweet The Sound is, like Jane Eyre, more accurately a bildungsroman than a romance.
Pilgrim River is truly a spiritual memoir for Catholic and non-Catholic readers. Most especially, people with big questions about the existence of God, the possibility of miracles, and the intercession of saints should read this book. It’s value lies in the ability to place us in the austerity of country that fed the spirituality of early desert fathers, and its stories of relationships and forgiveness.
Kristine lives in St. Denis in San Francisco Bay: “part nice, but part run down, an there’s some gangs aroun.” It’s not quite the ghetto, but it’s not quite out of it either. Earthquake Weather follows Kristine over the course of one summer as she begins to grapple with things far beyond her maturity, like the danger that the sweet boy who quotes poetry might be a gang member, or her uncle’s rampant alcoholism and the codependency that runs through her family. Although the narrative is young and innocent, the story is rife with tension from day one. As an adult, I know how dark things might get for Kristine, even if she doesn’t. And yet, Kristine isn’t an idiot. She’s fearless and honest, doing her best to navigate a dangerous world.
Bad boy Jarret West is a difficult character to like. He is complex, and what I would call a psychologist’s dream in that he takes risks, acts out, craves attention, and is extremely cruel to his younger brother Roland. He manipulates others, is always thinking only of himself and that to which he feels entitled. These attitudes and situations make him vulnerable to the whispered suggestions of the demon Deth-kye, whose purpose is to damn Jarret’s soul to Hell.
The other side of Jarret is wounded and tormented with the heartbreak of losing his mother. He also feels abandoned and betrayed by his twin brother, Keefe, who has experienced a mystical reversion to the Catholic faith and will no longer allow himself to be controlled by Jarret.
Bellavance’s well written, poetic story is an allegory illustrating the mercy given to us by God when we humbly confess our sins and make amends. It is the perfect book for all parents and teachers of second-grade students preparing for First Reconciliation and First Communion. The blessings of these Sacraments are revealed through the courage of Marguerite who is the only person honest enough to admit her mistake.
King of the Shattered Glass is a classic literary fairy tale.
If you’re looking for an historical epic to replace your need to watch The Sound of Music on repeat, this might be your poison.
Phoebe’s idyllic childhood is shattered when her mother is found murdered. Shortly afterwards her father goes insane trying to find his wife’s killer. Left to fend for herself, Phoebe nurses a grudge that she carries with her into adulthood and even across the ocean in her new home in Austria.
Of course, trouble is brewing in neighboring Germany and Phoebe herself is friends with some nascent Nazis; but it’s not a threat that anyone in their right mind is taking seriously at the moment. Phoebe herself has plenty of other things to think about, like the compassionate and gentle Turkish trader and the passionate, yet detached fallen Baron who wins her heart. At the same time, she keeps getting distracted from love by her continuing quest to hunt down her mother’s killer who, she believes, is hiding somewhere in Europe.
Historical Fiction / Romance
When English soldiers kill the mother of young Irish peasant Nell Dugan as they encroach on eighteenth-century Ireland, she spirals into decades of fantasizing about vengeance. But her instinctive desire to punish those who have wronged her and her loved ones contradicts a tenet of her Catholic faith: we must forgive others, just as God forgives us.
Nell softens as she falls for a Scottish Presbyterian aristocrat, allied to her by their mutual resistance to the persecutory rule of English Anglicans. The night of Nell’s wedding, English invaders kidnap her, selling her into slavery. With memorable, dynamic heroes seeking justice in our broken world, The Wind That Shakes the Corn shows the futility of hatred, however tempting, and the restorative power of love.
Classic Literature / Historical Fiction
I wrote this review before the pandemic hit. Sometimes I was tempted to belittle, or laugh at what I perceived as the main character’s penchant for drama as he complains to God. After over a year of fluctuating isolations, death and other tradgedies I’ve found this book to become more cathartic and mature than I understood in my first reading. If you are looking for a Lenten reading the might heal some of the stresses of 2020 (and probably 2021) there are few better recommendations than this.