Evensong

Gail Godwin, Author Ballantine Books $25 (405p) ISBN 978-0-345-37244-4
Godwin's latest novel is as comforting and evocative as its title. It's striking, at a time when so many books on spirituality are flooding the market, that so few novelists of skill and perceptiveness seem drawn to religion as a subject. Susan Howatch is one, of course, but Godwin has surely scored some kind of first in making her heroine here a female Anglican minister. Margaret Bonner, whom Godwin admirers will remember as the subject of Father Melancholy's Daughter, is now the pastor at All Saints High Balsam, a parish set in a conservative little resort community high in the Smokies in Western North Carolina. She married the much older Adrian Bonner, who is struggling as headmaster of a local boys' school, and who is apparently still daunted by thoughts of Margaret's youthful fling with Ben MacGruder, now a noted pop singer. Into their lives, as they approach the millennium (the book is set a year from now, at Advent 1999) comes Tony, a strange old man with dyed hair who represents himself as a monk on the move; Grace Munger, a local woman with a grim past who has set up as an evangelical revivalist and seeks Margaret's participation in an end-time parade to bring salvation and healing to the mountains; and Chase Zorn, a bright but self-destructive orphaned youngster who is a student at Adrian's school. Among a welter of conflicting emotions and loyalties, Margaret somehow keeps her sanity, even her serenity, intact, and learns to put together a long and loving life with a daughter born out of the sorrows of that strange and dramatic time. The carefully researched details of a woman minister's daily rituals are fascinating, and Godwin offers her usual insights into her characters' shifting feelings, compounded of psychological astuteness and keen empathy. Gracefully written and embracing a worldly but genuine sense of goodness and human possibility, this kind of book is rare these days. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
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