Editor's Choice

Future Home of the Living GodClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Louise Erdrich


The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Thirty-two-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby's origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.

A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.

BookBrowse Review

Louise Erdrich began Future Home of the Living God in 2002, set it aside, and picked it up again in late 2016. To the author (and likely many others), both these years seemed like they could potentially represent the dawning of an apocalypse: 2002 because of the Iraq War, and 2016 with its exceptionally divisive presidential election. The book's 2017 publication is fortuitously aligned with a broad resurgence in dystopian literature, and in particular a renewed interest in Margarat Atwood's classic of the genre, The Handmaid's Tale, now the basis for a popular television show, with which Future Home shares many common threads. The titular handmaids of Atwood's novel are women forced to serve as childbearers to wealthy couples because of an outbreak of mass sterility. In Erdrich's version, a similar outbreak is on the horizon, resulting in fertile women being forcibly detained in birthing hospitals that are little more than prisons and impregnated against their will. While Erdrich was likely inspired by her predecessor, Future Home of the Living God is an original (and utterly terrifying) creation.

The novel unfolds as a journal written by 26-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, addressed to her unborn child. The journal is meant to be "a record and an inquiry into the strangeness of things," as some sudden and remarkable shift has caused the process of evolution to begin reversing itself. As a result of this phenomenon, healthy babies are a rare commodity, and Cedar finds herself on the run from shadowy authorities called "The Unborn Protection Society" who wish to imprison her, take her baby, and use her womb to propagate the species. In these strange times, Cedar, who was adopted as an infant, meets her birth mother, an Ojibwe woman with an eccentric family. On the reservation where this family lives, a Mohawk Catholic saint named Kateri Tekakwitha (see 'Beyond the Book') suddenly appears with a vaguely threatening message. When the father of Cedar's child is captured and tortured, he gives up Cedar's location and she is forcibly taken to a hospital overseen by a sadistic staff. Her extended family works together to organize a thrilling escape and then attempts to hide Cedar until her baby is born.

The book's title comes from a billboard sign that Cedar observes in a field en route to the reservation, a reference to Jesus' Second Coming, but it also refers to the journal Cedar is writing for her baby. The "future home" is the world she is describing, the "living god" is her child, who is divine in her eyes, a miracle. Cedar is devoutly Catholic, and divinity is a major theme in the novel. She wonders: Has evolution reversed because God has abandoned his creation, leaving humankind "climbing back down the swimming-pool ladder into the primordial soup"? And if humanity reverts to some primitive prior incarnation, what becomes of the soul? Is it possible that a process that appears to be regressive is actually a step towards enlightenment?

Esoteric questions aside, Cedar is also battling a very real enemy, though Erdrich keeps the reader in the dark about much of the details. The U.S. Government has been overthrown, replaced by a religious organization, and Cedar is pursued by a mysterious matronly figure called "Mother," ostensibly a part of "The Unborn Protection Society," but this is not stated explicitly. This obfuscation is a clever technique that keeps the reader emotionally identifying with Cedar. The specifics of society's breakdown are irrelevant, and it is more realistic to have the facts indiscernible amid the confusion.

Erdrich imbues the novel with a sort of ludicrous humor that precludes it from becoming too dark. For example, Cedar learns that her birth name is Mary Potts, a name she shares with her biological mother, grandmother, and sister. There is an element of humbling absurdity in the discovery that she is, "just another of many Mary Potts reaching back to the colonization of this region, many of whom now worked at the Superpumper franchise first stop before the casino." There is some comfort to be found in being part of a tradition, albeit a modest one involving a gas station. While hospitalized, Cedar provides a long-winded, rapturous description of the view from her room before coming to an abrupt realization, "The elms are turning gold and come to think of it they must be giving me drugs."

Special mention must be made of Erdrich's minor characters, from Cedar's cunning and mysterious hospital roommate, nicknamed "Spider Nun," to her birth mother's husband Eddy, whose overwhelming existential ennui has caused him to draft a 3,000 page book filled with reasons he should not commit suicide.

While the book is frequently humorous, it is also haunting. Cedar's fate points to a possible future in which women's bodies are colonized and their choices about reproduction are not their own. Future Home of the Living God is smart but not pretentious. It is funny, thrilling, and heartbreaking, all without missing a beat – an impressive achievement.

Book reviewed by Lisa Butts

Beyond the Book:
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

In Future Home of the Living God, some of the inhabitants of the reservation that is home to Cedar's birth mother, encounter a vision of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, causing them to build a shrine in her honor. Tekakwitha was a devoted Catholic who was persecuted for her faith, and Cedar finds meaning in her suffering and inspiration in her perseverance. Tekakwitha is also significant because she is the first canonized Native American saint.

Statue Kateri Tekakwitha Tekakwitha was born in present day Auriesville, New York in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father. The Dutch, French, and English were all battling for territory in the New World at this time, and the Native American villages were frequently visited by Jesuit missionaries. The missionaries were permitted in the Mohawk village due to a trade treaty with France in which furs, weaponry and other metal implements, and alcohol were shipped back and forth from Europe to the New World. Nevertheless, the French and the Native American tribes were regularly at war. Tekakwitha's parents and brother were all killed by a smallpox outbreak when she was four years old. Tekakwitha contracted the illness herself but survived with partial blindness and scarring to her face. The Mohawks blamed the Jesuits for the outbreak (and they may have been right to do so). Tekakwitha was given religious instruction in secret by a missionary named Jacques de Lamberville, converted at age 19, and was subsequently baptized. Facing disapproval of her chosen faith by her remaining family and the other inhabitants of her village, Kateri fled 200 miles to a Catholic mission in the indigenous village of Sault St. Louis in what is Canada today.

In Sault St. Louis, Tekakwitha was instructed in her new religion by the Iroquois who lived there, and presumably by St. Francis Xavier, who led the mission. She took a vow of chastity and devoted herself entirely to religious study, prayer, and fasting. She also instructed the other residents of the mission and led them in prayer and worship. Many of these people claimed to feel closer to God in her presence. Tekakwitha died in 1680 at age 23 after contracting tuberculosis. Her death was likely precipitated by her extreme fasting and other acts of penance. Her last words were reportedly, "Jesus, I love you." Those present also claimed that her smallpox scars disappeared from her face as she passed away. This was declared a miracle. By 1744, Tekakwitha had come to be known as the "Protectress of Canada." She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Her tomb is at the St. Francis Xavier Mission at Kahnawake, near Montreal, and there is a shrine devoted to her at her birthplace in Auriesville.

As a patron saint of ecologists and others working to preserve the environment, Kateri Tekakwitha is an appropriate saint to preside over the characters in Future Home of the Living God, as climate change is referenced periodically and seems to be the most likely factor causing the reversal of the evolution process that the novel depicts. When Kateri appears before the people on the reservation, she is angry about the state of the world, and the state of its people's souls.

Picture of Statue Kateri Tekakwitha, from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, NM

The Last Mrs. ParrishClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Liv Constantine


Some women get everything. Some women get everything they deserve.

Amber Patterson is fed up. She's tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more - a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.

To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne - a socialite and philanthropist - and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.

Amber's envy could eat her alive ... if she didn't have a plan. Amber uses Daphne's compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family's life - the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne's closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

With shocking turns and dark secrets that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Last Mrs. Parrish is a fresh, juicy, and utterly addictive thriller from a diabolically imaginative talent.

BookBrowse Review

Amber has lived in poverty all her life, and she has had enough. Of course, wishing to have money and power doesn't make it so, but Amber isn't one to sit quietly in the background, hoping and praying that someday her prince will come. In fact, she has a very good plan; she has set her sights on the ultra-rich and very handsome Jackson Parrish, and nothing is going to stop her. To succeed, she first has to get rid of Jackson's overly privileged wife Daphne, and that's going to take some doing – especially since their devotion to each other is obvious and everyone knows they have a perfect marriage.

The first thing that struck me about Liv Constantine's The Last Mrs. Parrish (which is actually two sisters using one pen name - see Beyond the Book), is that it initially introduces us to the story's antagonist, Amber, and focuses on her throughout the first half of the novel. So early depictions of the protagonist, Daphne, makes her seem like a minor character. I found this type of structure in a novel fascinating. It pushes readers to immediately love to hate Amber. Not liking a novel's main character might sound like a bad thing; however, one essential part of an author's job is to get readers to have emotional responses to their characters. Usually that's something positive and sympathetic, but if hate is the best option, then why not? Almost automatically, because of how terrible Amber is, we feel bad for Daphne, even before we hear her side of the story. That means that when she does finally appear in the book, we're already primed to take her side, care about and feel sorry for her. If the authors had put Daphne's story first, we might not have thought so well of her so this structure choice made perfect sense.

Combine this structure with a very straightforward, slightly edgy feel to Amber's voice and a more lyrical sound to Daphne's – perhaps the two sisters divvied up these characters between them – and you have everything you need in both literary style and character development. Add to all of that Amber's devious plot to steal away Daphne's husband (with some twists that I cannot mention, since that would be giving away major plot spoilers), and, here too, the authors grab the reader with just the right amount of suspense to turn this into a real psychological thriller, but it is also not overly heavy or dark, making it all the more readable.

The only problem with The Last Mrs. Parrish is that there's a bit too much to the ending. While there are two extremely good twists included in those final few chapters, it just felt like some of the post-climax descriptions were too saccharine. Writers give the advice to "kill your babies" and if the authors had killed one of those twists, and concentrated more on the other one (though I couldn't choose which one), the conclusion would have felt more solid, and more consistent with the rest of the novel. Despite this one drawback, I can certainly recommend The Last Mrs. Parrish and I must give major kudos to the Constantine sisters for writing a book that I enjoyed so much, particularly since it's in a genre I almost never read.

Book reviewed by Davida Chazan

Beyond the Book:
Familial Co-Authors using One Name

According to their website, "Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine." Hearing this piqued my curiosity regarding, not simply literary collaborations (there are tons of those), but writers who collaborate and then publish their fictional works under a single pseudonym. Here are some famous related co-authors who write under one name:

Lars KeplerThe first on the list is the duo Nicci French. This is the pseudonym of the married British team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who have written many very popular psychological thrillers. The historical crime writer Michael Gregorio is actually the husband and wife team of English teacher Michael G. Jacob and philosophy teacher Daniela De Gregorio, who live in Spoleto, Italy. Another wedded team, this one from the USA, is Judith Barnard and Michael Fain, who published 11 novels as Judith Michael. While the aforementioned couples combined their names to form their pseudonyms, Swedish couple Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril went a step further and created a whole new name - writing their mysteries as Lars Kepler.

P. J. ParishBeing married to your co-author is one thing, but what about blood relations, like the Constantine sisters? Ellery Queen was the pen name of two cousins, Daniel Nathan (professionally known as Frederic Dannay) and Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky. Initially, they used the pseudonym Manfred Bennington Lee for their novels and short stories about a fictional detective character named Ellery Queen, but later they chose their detective's name as their pen name. The cousins were also responsible for four novels published under the name Barnaby Ross, ghostwritten by Don Tracy, but controlled and edited by the cousins.

P. J. ParishE.D. Gerard is the earliest sibling duo here. This is the collaborative pen name of the Scottish sisters Emily and Dorothea Gerard, who wrote novels together in the late 1880s. The British Isabel Meredith is the author of the 1903 novel A Girl Among the Anarchists. However, this is actually the pseudonym of Helen and Olivia Rossetti, who were the daughters of William Michael Rossetti and nieces of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. P. J. Parrish are also two sisters – Detroit born Kelly Nichols (née Montee) and Kristy Montee – who write the Louis Kincaid series of mystery thriller novels. Perri O'Shaughnessy is the pen name for two sisters, Mary and Pamela O'Shaughnessy, who write the Nina Reilly legal thrillers and live in Northern California. Finally, there is the mother-daughter team of Patricia (P.J.) and Traci Lambrecht, who wrote award-winning mystery and thriller novels together as P.J. Tracy up until P.J's death in 2016.

P. J. TracyIt seems the most popular genres of choice for collaborative works are the darker ones – crime, psychological, mystery and adventure. If anyone knows other related writers collaborating and using single pseudonyms, I'd love to hear about them!

Lars Kepler
Ellery Queen team
P. J. Parrish
P.J. Tracy

Never Coming BackClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Alison McGhee


When Clara Winter left her rural Adirondacks town for college, she never looked back. Her mother, Tamar, a loving but fiercely independent woman who raised Clara on her own, all but pushed her out the door, and so Clara built a new life for herself, far from her roots and the world she had always known.

Now more than a decade has passed, and Clara, a successful writer, has been summoned home. Tamar has become increasingly forgetful, and can no longer live on her own. But just as her mother's memory is declining, Clara's questions are building. Why was Tamar so insistent that Clara leave, all those years ago? Just what secrets was she hiding?

The surprising answers Clara uncovers are rooted in her mother's love for her, and the sacrifices Tamar made to protect her. And in being released from her past - though now surrounded by friends from it - Clara can finally look forward to the future. 

BookBrowse Review

18 out of 23 reviewers gave Alison McGhee's Never Coming Back a rating of 4 or 5, with an average score of 4.4. Nearly all of them spoke about how the novel touched them personally, hit close to home, and offered them insights into their own lives.

Overall, readers had so many good things to say:

A compassionate, unflinching, deeply moving testament to the bond between mothers and daughters. Clara Winter knows her mother, Tamar, loves her despite not always understanding her staunchly independent behavior. Clara's adult life is plagued by questions she believes only her mother can answer. But now her mother has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's and as time is running out for the resolutions to these issues, Clara begins to wonder if she really knows who her mother is (Beverly J). This was the best book that I have read this year. I had tears streaming down my face more than once. Alison McGhee just "gets" the whole mother/daughter dynamic and has been able to put it down on paper without being overly cynical or overly sweet (Beverly D). The pulse of Clara's regular visits to Tamar acts like a metronome on the narrative, confining the action as surely as the mother and daughter are restrained by their life choices. With exquisite delicacy, author McGhee reveals the emotional glue of these two eccentric, introverted and self-sufficient women. The small cast of intimate characters matches the spare nature of the Winters' lives and the Adirondack setting is true to isolated mountain life (Claire M). Some novels make you laugh. Some novels make you think...but the best novels make you feel empathy for the character and touch your own emotional psyche. This book does it. It moved me and I guess that's the best compliment I can give (Colleen L).

They also made it clear that this is not just another story about Alzheimer's; at its core it is a story about the importance of language:

Words loom large in this story: words in books, song lyrics, and in recalled conversations, yet the author writes sparingly, drawing the plot out slowly, adding layer after layer. The story is both simple and complicated because that's how real life is (Priscilla M). This is so much more than another book about Alzheimer's disease. It's about the power of words to heal or harm; to evoke calm or tension (Loretta F). Words are wrapped around the heart of Clara Winter, sometimes they squeeze her so hard her heart races dangerously, threatening to tear her apart. Tamar Winter says little, explains less and is determined to do things her way, keeping her reasons to herself. How can a mother and daughter resolve misunderstandings of the past when they are engaged in a classic standoff? (Claire M) Of particular interest is the "Jeopardy" motif that appears frequently and quietly holds the narrative together. I also enjoyed the references to language and "bon mots" that are sprinkled throughout! (Kimberly A)

Many readers were reminded of their mothers:

The writing is spectacular, both tender and raw with well-drawn characters. McGhee pulls you in swiftly and holds you until the end. Her characters and their feelings will stay with you long after you turn the last page and make you want to call your mother (Julie M). Realizing that mothers are real people who were once young, vibrant and interesting people before they became mothers of teenagers is just one of the take-always from this story (Gretchen M). To be honest, I almost didn't read this book because I just lost my mom and I knew it would be difficult to read…but instead it made me more thankful for her because we had no great secrets and I always knew that she was a person separate from being my mom (Susan R). I didn't realize how much this book would actually hit home for me. I have a mother who is diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer's. At first I had no problem reading the book but, as it went on, it became more apparent that it was too close for comfort. I had a great deal of difficulty finishing the book but I made my way through it…The author did a superb job, I am glad that I did not give up on it (Kristen H).

Readers recommend this novel to:

I highly recommend this book for adult readers as well as young adults...a perfect book club entry. Bravo! (Beverly D) I recommend this book to any daughter who is not as close to her mother as she'd like to be. That is me, and I've learned some valuable truths here (Loretta F). I think this would be a great book club book although it might be difficult for some to read if they have family members with this debilitating disease (Carol N). I think this is a special book for a very special reader and not the general population (Susan O). When the act of living is peeled back to its essence, then we hold on to what truly gives us meaning. What is that for Clara, for Tamar? Book group members will have much to discuss and ample opportunity for personal reflection as well (Claire M).

Book reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Beyond the Book:
A Snapshot of the Adirondacks

Alison McGhee tells her story in Never Coming Back against the backdrop of the wildly varied ecosystems of New York State's Adirondack Region, located in the most northern part of the state close to the borders of Canada and Vermont.

Adirondacks camping The Adirondacks cover an area of more than six million acres - a roughly circular area about 160 miles in diameter. It is the largest protected natural area in the lower 48 States.

Adirondacks canoesIn the Mohawk language, Adirondack means porcupine. The area contains over 100 mountains and about 3000 lakes and ponds. It has been settled for at least 12,000 years and, today, boasts more than 2000 miles of hiking trails.

Biking, hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking are some of the many outdoors activities that draw people to the region.

MooseThe Adirondack Mountains are heavily forested. The lower levels are covered with northern hardwoods which, being deciduous, provide stunning fall foliage. Climbing above about 2500 feet, the hardwoods give way to firs and spruce.

However, despite its stunning landscape, the Adirondacks are extremely isolated, which discourages companies from setting up shop there.

Adirondack mountain sceneWhile the tourism industry is a major employer of the 132,000 year round population, as are federal, county, town and school institutions, unemployment is a problem with rates in some areas above 11%.

That said, there is no denying the raw beauty of the Adirondacks and its draw for people who love both adventure and the wilderness.

Solar BonesClick for more information including
an excerpt and read-alike recommendations

by Mike McCormack


Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize
Winner of the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year
An Irish Times Book Club Choice

A vital, tender, death-haunted work by one of Ireland's most important contemporary writers, Solar Bones is a celebration of the unexpected beauty of life and of language, and our inescapable nearness to our last end. It is All Souls Day, and the spirit of Marcus Conway sits at his kitchen table and remembers. In flowing, relentless prose, Conway recalls his life in rural Ireland: as a boy and man, father, husband, citizen. His ruminations move from childhood memories of his father's deftness with machines to his own work as a civil engineer, from transformations in the local economy to the tidal wave of global financial collapse.

Conway's thoughts go still further, outward to the vast systems of time and history that hold us all. He stares down through the "vortex of his being," surveying all the linked circumstances that combined to bring him into this single moment, and he makes us feel, if only for an instant, all the terror and gratitude that existence inspires.

BookBrowse Review

Written in a poetic, line-breaking style, Mike McCormack's Solar Bones reads with a breathless urgency. The narrator, Marcus Conway, is a civil engineer with a wife and two grown children. Just like his ancestors, Marcus has lived his entire life in the county of Mayo, on the coast of Ireland. But, in the opening pages as he hears the Angelus bell (See 'Beyond the Book') ringing from the village church, it isn't really Marcus Conway who is drawn, in a sort of frenzy, to his kitchen. It's his ghost.

Marcus doesn't quite realize that he has died. He is confused and in pain. "There is something strange about all this," he says, "some twitchy energy in the ether which has affected me from the moment those bells began to toll, something flitting through me, a giddiness drawing me…" The entire novel is narrated by his ghost looking back at his life. It reads as a single breath, a moment, which may be exactly what it is: his life passing before his eyes.

Marcus begins to read the national and international new articles — which adds to his unease — some about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and others about how the markets are recovering from the most recent financial collapse. His memory is sparked by a smaller local story: There are plans underway to convert an abandoned industrial facility, bringing the "promise of jobs and subsidiary investment." This news item has a direct connection to him because his father helped build the facility years ago. Marcus notes that when it was originally constructed, it held "a similar promise of prosperity, it was spoken of as if it were a cathedral…a beacon of industrial progress."

For Marcus, in this opening, the wider world's events spiral down and converge to memories of his father. Later in the novel, the local news story making national headlines is about water contamination. His wandering thoughts spiral closer as we gradually learn his wife was one of several hundred people who fell ill due to an engineering oversight that allowed for the contamination.

Engineering is more than a career for Marcus, it is a "high and even noble calling." He sees his father, his wife, and his children through this lens. His wife tells him their son is academically gifted, but Marcus can't understand why he left school to go fruit-picking in Australia. Though their daughter has earned a solo art exhibition by graduating first in her class, he is embarrassed and even frightened by her experimental art when he learns that her canvases are painted with her own blood. These thought associations wind their way through the emotional centers of his life, giving us insight into the beliefs and choices that made Marcus the man he was.

The swirling effect of Marcus's memories are supported by McCormack's unique style. The book is not broken down into chapters, or even into sentences. It is written in lines of prose that break, delineating details or bouncing in a different direction. There are short phrases that repeat with slight variations, often bordered by line breaks, lending the prose a poetic quality: "sitting here in this kitchen… at this same table… this very table here… this same table…"

It took me some time to adjust to the book's style; I had to make a conscious choice to break with the expectations I brought to the text. But I am so grateful that I did. Reading this book felt a little bit like falling, a long exhale of life's pent-up anxieties. "This is how you get carried away," Marcus says. When I allowed myself to be carried away along the bumps between line breaks, it felt like a rush and a clatter toward an inner beauty and stillness.

As the Angelus bell rings in the novel's opening pages, Marcus imagines the sound gathering "all the focal points around which a parish like this gathers itself." His ghost gathers himself too, collecting the focal points of his life in a "post mortem aria." Toward the end of the novel, Marcus has what he calls "a clear view down through the vortex of my whole being." This image of a vortex is apt, as his thoughts and memories fly like debris in a tornado, spanning widely to thoughts of the region's pre-Cambrian glacial past, then narrowly to the smallest molecule of his being. There isn't any punctuation to end Marcus's swirl of memories. He is cast out "into that vast into oblivion… where there is nothing else for it but to keep going…"

Book reviewed by Chris Fredrick

Beyond the Book:
The Angelus Prayer

Solar Bones is set in the county of Mayo in Ireland, where the narrator can distinctly hear the village church bell ringing its "six chimes of three across a minute and a half;" he refers to it as the Angelus bell.

The Angelus bell is essentially a church bell that rings as a reminder to recite the Angelus prayer. The Angelus prayer recounts the biblical event known as the Annunciation, the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to become the mother of Jesus, the son of God. The ringing of the bell seems to have come into wide use in the 17th century as a means of calling the Catholic faithful to recite the Angelus in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.

The Angelus takes its name from the first line of the prayer in Latin, "Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ," which translates to "The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary." The Angelus consists of a set of short verses and responses, three recitations of the widely-known "Hail Mary," and a closing prayer. The sound of the Angelus bell coincides with the prayer's recitation, providing three rings for each verse, response, and Hail Mary, and then nine more for the closing prayer.

The Angelus took its current form in the 16th century, evolving from previous practices. A writer for L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See, provides background on the Angelus, describing the medieval custom that preceded the Angelus as the practice of reciting the Hail Mary three times in the evening, "preceded always by the ringing of a bell so that the brothers and all the faithful nearby would know that it was time for the Hail Mary." As time passed, the practice was extended to both early morning and midday.

The Angelus by Jean-François Millet The pause for prayer, invoked by the bell ringing, is depicted in the painting, The Angelus, by Jean-Francois Millet. Believed to have been painted between 1857 and 1859, the painting depicts a man and a woman standing in a potato field; he holds his hat and she folds her hands. Both of their heads are bowed in prayer.

The Angelus call to prayer rings from bells in local churches and monasteries in the unique sequence that invokes the Angelus, although the physical bells themselves could also have served other purposes, such as curfew. According to Catholic.org, "Where the town-bell and the bells of the principal church or monastery were distinct, the curfew was generally rung upon the town-bell. Where the church-bell served for both purposes, [they] were probably rung upon the same bell at different hours." The small number of physical bells surviving from the 13th and 14th centuries suggest that they were intended to be used as a call to recite the Hail Mary because a high proportion of them have inscriptions dedicated to Mary or St. Gabriel.

Bells still ring from churches in Vatican City and in parts of Germany and Ireland and elsewhere, calling the faithful to recite the Angelus prayer. Since 1950, this ringing can also be heard over RTE, Ireland's national public broadcaster. As outlined in an opinion in The Guardian in 2009, the practice has been the subject of some controversy in recent years with critics including secularists, rationalists and constitutionalists contending that a national broadcaster should not transmit a Catholic prayer. However, defenders argue that it is pre-Reformation and a cultural tradition. In a culture piece published in The Irish Times in March of 2017, Donald Clarke asks, "Why do we still broadcast the angelus bongs?" Although polling seems to suggest "unambiguous antagonism towards the Catholic Church," it also finds that 62 percent agree that the Angelus should continue to be broadcast on RTÉ.

To hear a bell ringing a call to the Angelus prayer in Wexford, Ireland, in 2009, click on the video below:

Picture of The Angelus by Jean-François Millet

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