CBR 13 BINGO: Rep (explanation in review)
This book came to me because author Ann Patchett recommended it on Goodreads. Not sure that it was something that I would have picked up otherwise based on the title, cover and subject matter, but I’m glad I did.
The Horton family’s entire life is subsumed by the father’s ministry and thriving congregation in Texas. Known for his power to heal, Reverend Horton leaves his church and takes his family on the road every summer for revival season. During week long stints at revival tents throughout the southeastern United States, the Reverend commands a large crowd of believers seeking cures for everything from headaches to paralysis.
The Reverend’s oldest child, Miriam, looks forward to these trips every year; full of excitement and pride in watching her father doing God’s work. When an incident occurs at the end of a season, the foundation of Miriam’s family is shaken. Is her father’s calling real? Once Miriam begins to question her father’s absolute authority and peeks behind the curtain, her entire life is turned upside down.
This could have easily been an indictment of evangelical Christians or religion for profit but it wasn’t. Religious faith here is more celebrated than criticized. God isn’t the problem but the messenger may be. While Miriam’s struggle is one of faith, it’s more about the loss of faith in her father than in God.
When I think of faith healing, my mind tends to head towards conservative and very WHITE mega church situations. I suppose because I associate faith healing with televised ministry. Revival tents are not something that I thought still existed to be honest, but this sort of thing is very far from my wheelhouse. So, I’m claiming this one as the Rep square because of its less common representation (in mainstream fiction) of religious faith as well as a fresh look at faith healing that isn’t flashy white dudes with off shore bank accounts.
West’s novel is very atmospheric, her characters vividly drawn and she somehow manages to make the simple poetical. It’s a solid debut novel, if a slow starter.