Monday, February 13, 2012

Girl And God Get In a Spat

Ah, Lauren Winner.  Author of one of my favorite love-to-hate books, Girl Meets GodSmuggish, brilliant, passionate, I love reading her books, even though they're memoirs and I don't really like her very much.  It's very much about the experience of reading for me.  So her new book, Still: Notes on A Mid-Faith Crisis, got me really, really, really excited.

I feel like I understand more and more about Winner the more of her books I read.  She talks about writing memoirs as a way of hiding in plain sight, and you can see that throughout her writing.  Her straightforward, chagrined descriptions of her own flaws and neuroses are rendered with a poetry and distance that makes this morning's freak-out sound like a memory from her distant past.  She's writing the moving story of someone with a lot of problems, and she herself is moved by the story--which is different from living it.

I think she is more direct about her flaws in this book, which I appreciate greatly.  In her previous book, she treated some of her actions as perfectly normal that seemed kind of on the edge to me--acquiring or throwing out dozens or hundreds of books with her change of faith, literally wallpapering her room with images of Jesus.  But there was a literary remove made me feel like Winner-the-author assumed I would be right on board with all the behaviors of Winner-the-character, and that disconnect really turned me off.

In this book, she's much more blunt about presenting her life as flawed.  This is partially because she's talking about a sense of distance from God, and her thesis is that, while not unnatural, this distance is problematic, where in the previous book her odd behaviors are related to her passion and therefore meet with her own approval.  This focus between my view of her and her own makes it easier for me to see her actual behavior more objectively. 

I'm not being flip or funny when I say that I see a lot of bipolar qualities in her, or at least a lot of OCD behaviors.  She admits to the latter, to checking her wallet repeatedly during a single car trip to make sure she didn't forget her ID.  At one point (in the afterword), she points out that she's still struggling with what it means to say you believe in the authority of scripture and yet to leave your husband, something scripture expressly forbids.  Her awareness of these contradictions, and the fact that she's in still wrestling with these questions, gives the book a more authentic feel to me.

I have so much to say about this book, and that's because it speaks to me.  It's not entirely her faith, though that is part of it--even having that certainty to drift from, wonder about, orbit around, reach toward, is interesting to me.  But on page after page there are ideas she presents, vignettes, parables, quotes from historians or religious thinkers that have me reacting, thinking, asking myself questions.  A Saul Bellow quote about sloth--"sloth is really a busy condition, hyperactive.....[the slothful] labor because rest terrifies them"--had me looking at my life and mind in a way that really doesn't belong in a book blog.  These moments are on every other page--poems presented in a context that makes me see the meaning in them easily, movingly, even if I don't hold the same feelings as the author.  Anecdotes that are presented without a tying thread, but that are beautifully rendered observations, literary gems, that make points I don't agree with about every human being's need for God.

I could go on and on about this, and I haven't even finished the book yet.  I don't know if I recommend it; if what she's talking about doesn't mean anything to you, if you don't find faith journeys compelling, I don't know how much you'd get from it.   But you might still get something, because damn, the girl can write.

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