I'm usually one to talk much more about plot than writing style, but this week I have read two books in which the writing style was extraordinary. The first was Silver Birches, about which I just finished writing. The second is The Moment Between, the story of a young woman who found her sister's body after her sister committed suicide. Nicole Baarat threads three time periods throughout the book. Each chapter includes a section in italics which describes Abigail finding her sister's body and dealing with the immediate aftermath. Each chapter also includes a section telling about the sisters' relationship with each other and with their parents, starting with Abigail's birth and ending shortly before Hailey's death. The third thread is today's story--what is happening in Abigails life now, as she attempts to deal with the death of her sister.
After the death of her sister, Abigail tries to find her sister's boyfriend. Though they lived in south Florida, she tracks him to vineyard in British Columbia. The owner of the vineyard befriends her and gives her a job. The vineyard is one of those that not only grows grapes and makes wine, but also caters to tourists. After spending the summer there, and going through some experiences, some of which I'll talk about below, Abigail gains some peace about her sister.
Until I got about 2/3 of the way through this book I was ready to give it five stars, which I very rarely do. Since I finished the book, I'm going to give it three stars--a good story, great writing, but it misrepresents the Catholic faith. At first, I thought maybe it was just a matter of incomplete research, or not quite getting it right. That's what struck me when someone said the Lord's Prayer and ended it with "For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are Yours, now and forever, Amen". At mass, we say that after the Our Father, but another prayer is said in between them by the priest "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." At that point the people say "For the kingdom...." However, when Catholic say the Our Father outside of mass we say "...and deliver us from evil, Amen." and from what I know Protestants generally end it with "for thine is the..." However, if this was the only problem with this book, I'd still give it five stars.
The owner of the vineyard and Abigail start talking about religion. Abigail is, she admits, a lapsed Catholic. Her family was never terribly devout, though she was made to attend "Sunday School" (a term Catholics rarely use). Her sister, when it is time for her to be confirmed, becomes very devout, attending mass and confessing weekly (the Church requires once a year; many spiritual directors recommend monthly). Her sister is mentally ill and self-injurious. Anyway, the owner of the vineyard asks Abigail about purgatory. She tells him it is a place where you have to make up for your sins. One nice thing about the Catholic church is that you don't have to take my word, or my pastor's word, on what it teaches. The teachings are written down and freely accessible. Upon searching for purgatory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church I find:
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church,
it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin
deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal
life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the
other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures,
which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called
Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal
punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of
vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature
of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the
complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would
1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with
God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal
punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all
kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive
to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works
of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance,
to put off completely the "old man" and to put on the "new man."85
In other words, the purpose of purgatory isn't to punish us, it is to change us, to convert us to God's way--because for most of us there are sins that we are more sorry are sins than we are for committing them.
Also, Abigail and the vineyard owner get talking about Hailey's suicide and you definitely get the impression that Abigail is worried about Hailey's soul since she committed suicide. You also get the impression from the book that the Catholic church would condemn her. Here is what the Catechism says about suicide:
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law. Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
In short, contrary to what might be believed after reading this book, the Catholic church does not encourage penance for the sake of punishing yourself for sins, but rather to lead you away from sin. Purgatory is not for punishment but to eliminate attachment to sin. Abigail's sister was a mentally ill young woman with a major stressor in her life at the time she took it. While none of us can know the state of another's soul, we trust in a loving and merciful God.
I realize the author is not Catholic, and I realize this book is marketed primarily to non-Catholics. However, as my mom used to say, "If the only way you can make yourself look good is to knock someone else, then you must not be very good". Hailey and Abigail's Catholic identity was not crucial to this book. They could have just grown up in a home of little faith, with Hailey becoming really religious in some generic church as a teen. As a generic Christian not really a believer, Abigail could have worried about Hailey's soul and sought to avenge her death.
Also, the climax scene in this book is unrealistic. The vineyard owner is sitting in a barn, with the door open and bread and wine on the table. She notices the door open and checks out the area. He says he's been here every nite waiting for her. They share bread and wine and he describes it as communion--with her making the Catholic comment, quickly quashed, that they don't have a priest. Sorry, I just can't see a guy sitting alone in a barn like that for months waiting for her to come. I know he is a metaphor, but when people are metaphors they also have to work as people, and in this scene, he doesn't.
I've rarely felt so let down by the ending of a book.