FEELING FOR BONES
One of Christian fiction's newest and best first novels, FEELING FOR BONES, is just out -- and you don't want to miss it. In this beautifully written debut novel, newcomer Bethany Pierce crafts a memoir-like look at a young minister's daughter who battles anorexia and struggles to discover her inner beauty. Pierce is an unusually gifted writer whose book comes across as excellent literature rather than preaching, a problem with so many message-driven Christian novels.
After a distressing church vote, 16-year-old Olivia's father has lost his job as pastor. She, her younger sister, the oddly named Callapher, and their parents leave Ohio for the Appalachian Mountains where they rent a house owned by their Great-Aunt Margaret and her friend, Ruby, who they call "the Old Maids." Olivia immediately nicknames the two-bedroom, one-bathroom decrepit house "the Shoe Box." "Think we can suffer for Jesus here, don't you?" says her father, ironically.
Olivia's sense of helplessness and emptiness in the face of upheaval comes through Pierce's memorable scenes and some rich passages in the book. "I thought of my father. When I saw him in my mind, he was always just looking up from a book, an expression of bewilderment in his eyes…." Her dad quits going to church and sleeps in on Sunday mornings, while Olivia's mother tiptoes around, trying not to disturb him. "Looking into the shadows of the bedroom, I felt I had physically come face-to-face with the very substance of my own despair," muses Olivia. She is afraid. Controlling her eating is a way --- the way --- Olivia has of controlling her fear.
As Olivia struggles to discover her place in the world apart from her appearance, she finds help in unusual places. "The summer job saved me," she says of her part-time work at a car lot office. Her best friends Mollie and Matthew involve her in creative pursuits and help her focus on things other than food --- or not thinking about food. "I ate without tasting, even, crowding my belly…and still feeling, in a different place, a deep and hollow emptiness."
Pierce is an English professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as well as an artist. These two talents are evident as the novel unfolds in beautiful, descriptive prose. The opening lines are particularly evocative:
"At the age of sixteen, I suffered recurring nightmares. I was running as hard as I could while my destination on the horizon receded to a pinpoint and vanished like the white pop of an old television screen winking out. I lay in a trance at the bottom of a pool, suffocating beneath an invisible, silent weight; people's voices reached my ears across a great distance, and the reflection of my body was always before me, wavering in myriad and grotesque distortions."
Following Olivia into her interior world is an education in how some women view their bodies. Glued to Olivia's bedroom wall is a collage of beautiful women --- women in stilettos, women in lingerie, women with thick lips, billowing hair and flat bellies --- who Olivia sees as typifying beauty. She recalls her earliest memories of her father reading fairy tales to her, stories of pretty princesses. She remembers her mother buying her bridal magazines as a treat, full of lovely models "getting the prince." Is it any wonder, we realize, that girls grow up with distorted ideas of what true beauty is?
As Olivia paints and is introduced to poetry, her interior life slowly begins to take on importance over her exterior appearance. The end is redemptive without being in any way saccharine.
If you enjoy beautiful writing and rich, dark, intriguing inspirational fiction, then you'll love FEELING FOR BONES. If you only read one new novelist in Christian fiction this year, start here. You won't be disappointed.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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