Summary and book reviews of Lying Awake by Mark Salzman

Lying Awake

by Mark Salzman

Lying Awake
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2000, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2001, 192 pages

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Book Summary

With extraordinary dexterity, the author brings to life the mysterious world of the cloister, and of one woman's trial at the perilous intersection of faith and reason.

In a Carmelite monastery outside present-day Los Angeles, life goes on in a manner virtually unchanged for centuries. Sister John of the Cross has spent years there in the service of God. And there, she alone experiences visions of such dazzling power and insight that she is looked upon as a spiritual master.

But Sister John's visions are accompanied by powerful headaches, and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice. For if her spiritual gifts are symptoms of illness rather than grace, will a "cure" mean the end of her visions and a soul once again dry and searching?

This is the dilemma at the heart of Mark Salzman's spare, astonishing new novel. With extraordinary dexterity, the author of the best-selling Iron & Silk and The Soloist brings to life the mysterious world of the cloister, giving us a brilliantly realized portrait of women today drawn to the rigors of an ancient religious life, and of one woman's trial at the perilous intersection of faith and reason.

Lying Awake is a novel of remarkable empathy and imagination, and Mark Salzman's most provocative work to date.

July 25
Saint James, Apostle

Sister John of the Cross pushed her blanket aside, dropped to her knees on the floor of her cell, and offered the day to God.

Every moment a beginning, every moment an end.

The silence of the monastery coaxed her out of herself, calling her to search for something unfelt, unknown, and unimagined. Her spirit responded to this call with an algorithm of longing. Every moment of being contained an indivisible -- and invisible -- denominator.

She lit a vigil candle and faced the plain wooden cross on the wall. It had no corpus because, in spirit, she belonged there, taking Christ's place and helping relieve his burden.

Suffering borne by two is nearly joy.

Fighting the stiffness in her limbs, she lifted her brown scapular, symbol of the yoke of Christ, and began the clothing prayer:

Clothe me, O Lord, with the armor of salvation.

She let the robe's two panels drop from her shoulders to the hemline, back and front, then stepped into the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How deliberate and appropriate is the choice of locale of the monastery of Sisters of the Carmel of Saint Joseph in the very heart of Los Angeles rather than in a more pastoral setting?

  2. The nuns follow a way of life established for centuries. In what ways, if any, are they allowed to express their individuality?

  3. Salzman writes "The real penance in cloistered life, most Sisters agreed, was not isolation; it was the impossibility of getting away from people one would not normally have chosen as friends" [p. 21]. What incidents in the book support this statement? How does Salzman "humanize" Sister John and the other nuns--for instance, Sister Bernadette, Sister Anne, and Mother Emmanuel--without undermining his portrait of lives ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Magazine - Daniel Mendelsohn

Readers interested in lyricism, the bone-beautiful kind that arises from all thing intensely considered, would do well to pick up Mark Salzman's Lying Awake...the concreteness and economy of Salzman's writing, his eye and ear for tiny, resonant details eventually yield their riches in a clear-eyed vision—not, perhaps, of what God means, but certainly of what it means to be a human being...

Entertainment Weekly

In an era of trendy spirituality, Salzman has rendered the real thing. His book should be short-listed for all the literary prizes, but it has the kind of grace that doesn't demand them.

Kirkus Reviews

A deliberate and somewhat plodding account of life inside a Carmelite convent, told with a surfeit of awe by Salzman.

Library Journal

In this spare, affecting novel, Salzman (Lost in Place, The Soloist) creates a compelling portrait of faith and the interior life.

Publishers Weekly

Mysticism meets modern medicine in this intriguing account of a nun's dark night of the soul.

Reader Reviews

Mary Jordan



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