Catholic guilt is often seen as a cultural experience of many Americans who grew up in ethnic enclaves that practiced Catholicism. I’m not sure if it is a universal Catholic experience (maybe it is?) but it’s prevalent in a lot of Catholics I know who were born and raised in the States. Catholic guilt is a recurring theme in media; explored in great detail in the films of Martin Scorsese. It’s old hat at this point but as millions of Americans come from Catholic backgrounds is familiar.
The residual guilt that folks of conservative/fundamentalist/charismatic backgrounds feel, even after leaving their respective ecclesias, is less explored terrain. I think that’s going to change in the coming years as more and more people leave churches. You can leave but no one really leaves; these types of congregations are the backbone of many a red state village or rural area. However, this sentiment has not been plumbed as frequent by our culture makers.
Debbie Babitt uses most of this Ozark-set mystery text to explore that, while also mixing in an excitable mystery/thriller. The back-and-forth of the narrative in the early part of the book doesn’t work as well; I would’ve preferred Mary Grace to parcel out the story as she went along (which is what happened in the second half). And she keeps the running threads intertwined: Mary Grace’s feelings towards her God and hometown religion, the mysteries of the past and present which pull her in, the plot-burning build up near the end (which maybe went too fast) and the shocking conclusion (again, too fast and implausible but the writing is so good, I forgave it).
As a Christian, it’s a shame that so many folks feel the need to escape the institutions of their life due to the abuses and retrograde attitudes of the church. I don’t fault them though. This is a story for those people who are still struggling with that. Come for that and stay for the quality, atmospheric mystery read.