rating: 3 of 5 stars
It would be tempting to write this book off as one of many “just another” novels. With family drama as the structure and religion as the conflict, it would be easy to shelve this book right alongside an Anita Shreve “failing marriage” novel or a Jodi Piccoult “my child is dying/arrested/pregnant” novel. Husband/wife, mother/son, and father/daughter relationships always generate complicated, interesting stories; the problem is that most of them have already been told this way using this mother’s voice.
Still, what I find particularly interesting is that when Kiernan chooses to switch POV so that the son, Marshall, is telling the story, she keeps the POV in the third person (whereas the rest of the novel is told in the first person, from the mother Chloe’s POV). However, no one other than creative writers or English majors are likely to notice, much less appreciate this tactic. It keeps readers somewhat removed from Marshall and his account of the story, at arm’s length, which allows them to judge him the way every other character is judging him throughout the story. Conversely, readers are in the story with Chloe and therefore cannot help but empathize with her plights, even if they may disapprove of her emotions or her actions.
What is particular and interesting to this book is the way Kiernan addresses faith and religion separately, yet in parallel. Some of her characters can separate the two and some cannot, but she as the author draws a clearly divisive line between faith and religion and thus allows her readers to explore both simultaneously and objectively, while in the context of a family drama.
This is no work of literature in either the formal or the artistic sense, but it is a fun, fast, mildly thought-provoking read and certainly a nice addition to the literary conversation surrounding faith and religion.
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