Recommended Reading: The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski

IMG_4361Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God* reminded me of another debut novel, Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, from the provocative title to the ’70s setting to the interest in religious girls’ isolation.

Thirteen-year-old Jory is the middle of three sisters (Grace is older, Frances significantly younger) in a deeply devout evangelical family living in Idaho. The girls attend a Christian academy; their mother is a homemaker and their father teaches astronomy at a nearby college. Jory is a bit rebellious, but Grace is a model of devotion and hard work; she wants to become a missionary, and is thrilled when she’s sent to Mexico for that purpose.

But then she returns pregnant, and the family is lost in turmoil since Grace insists the child has been given to her by God. Eventually the girls’ father decides to exile Jory and Grace to a house outside their small town. Grace will take correspondence classes and Jory will attend—horror!—the public school.

Over the next few months, the sisters contend with their isolation (which for Jory is simultaneously a social expansion), their faith, and each other as Jory tries to find her footing in the secular world and its characters—the kids at school, the mysterious driver of the ice cream truck, and their cantankerous but caring next-door neighbor, while Grace tries to convince their father to draw them back into the family orbit.

Unlike The Virgin Suicides, which was narrated in the unusual first-person plural, this novel take the third-person perspective, but it’s so closely in tune with Jory that I sometimes forgot, over the couple weeks I read it, that she wasn’t the narrator. Ms. Brelinski has a knack for capturing the confusing sensations and tumultuous thoughts of adolescent girlhood in descriptive passages like these:

Jory was appalled to see a teardrop splat onto her writing. The blue ink bled outward and obscured what had been written there. The earth was now a bleary, unknown age, although the universe’s age remained clear. Her small world had been wiped out while the rest of the cosmos went on unchanged—a tiny lesser planet washed away in a small, second flood, and barely even noticed in its passing. (277)

The Girl Who Slept with God is an absorbing, character-driven read. Recommended.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

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Recommended Reading: The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex didn’t land on my radar until graduate school, when I devoured the novel in two days, reading on the T, in line at the pharmacy, in the kitchen. I stayed up late. I cried. And then I read it again.

So it was with eager fingers that I turned the first pages of The Virgin Suicides (1993), the first of Mr. Eugenides’s three published novels.

I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s very, very different from Middlesex; it doesn’t share the sweeping scope of family, history, and geography. Instead, the focus on the girls feels almost claustrophobic; the reader is hemmed in, drawn to the inevitable, macabre conclusion the book’s title suggests.

I’d never seen this style of narration before: first person plural, never broken. The middle-aged men who look back on the Lisbon sisters and their own younger selves act as archaeologists, excavating and archiving objects and memories in an attempt to come to terms with the tragedy in their hometown. Because the narrators are just as bewildered as the reader, the novel sidesteps the available easy answers, the laying of blame.

And it’s Eugenides. The writing is breathtakingly beautiful.