On My Bookshelf: Some Contrasts in Conversion

what happened to sophie wilderI started the year off with some fiction. I noticed a brief post on Christopher Beha’s 2012 novel What Happened to Sophie Wilder? and with the mention of the title character’s conversion to Catholicism, I thought it would be an interesting read. And it was.

This brief novel tickled something in me from my early thirties, a time when a person might look back on her or his college years and of botched relationships, but still remembered with some fondness. Especially if nothing better or more mature has come along.

I enjoyed Mr Beha’s writing as well as his characterization and plotting here. This is a very refined work. As a man of faith, I also found his treatment of Sophie’s entry into the Church sensitive and accurate.

A bit more happens to Sophie before the end, and not all of it is good. I was thinking of how lost she and her friends are and how little they realize how lost and desperate they are painted. So this is a very insightful and accurate book, and perhaps in a way or two the author never intended.

Some readers might consider it more realistic. Struggling people who are isolated in a modern culture of indulgence and leisure. If there’s one element of disbelief, I don’t quite see how people can live in New York City without seeming to have substantial jobs. This is kind of like Friends but with a literary backbone.

the abbeyI’ve been looking forward to James Martin’s first novel since I heard of its release. He does well with memoirs, spiritual books, and religious travelogues. So why not fiction?

A Benedictine abbot, a carpenter, and a divorced woman with a dead son: does that seem like an avenue for marriage prep in a monastery? That’s not quite what happens here. All three characters deal with significant loss, but unlike in Beha’s book they all find the grace of support from trusted confidants. Because of this, Martin’s characters do not spin off into despair.

I was a little distracted by Fr Martin’s subtle efforts at catechesis. These were asides that didn’t really advance the story. In science fiction, they are called info dumps. They damage otherwise good sf.

The big plus in The Abbey is a sensitive illustration of how God communicates through human imagination, plus how a skilled spiritual director would handle it.

This book was a quick read–two nights, plus another hour this afternoon. The characters are all basically good people. The lay people underperform emotionally and spiritually, but the abbot helps set them to higher aspirations–and by that I mean more fulfilling lives, not necessarily more faithful church attendance.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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