“They passed the sugar beet factory and then a sign advertising the college.
‘Is that where your father works?’
She nodded. ‘He teaches astronomy.’
‘Oh, the stars.’ Mrs. Kleinfelter said this as if she were saying the word God.”
The Girl Who Slept with God, p. 131
By Val Brelinski
I peruse my photos and see dense clusters of flowers interspersed with very few other things, which I translate to mean a summer going well. June/July/August blur together in what feels like a vast, single swath of summer, so a glimpse of the finish line has inspired a newfound excitement. The sunflower above was seen on a Saturday visit to UC Berkeley’s Botanical Garden, a neighborhood enclave that magically feels far, far away.
I finished Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God as soon as I could, admittedly motivated by two new books on my shelf. The book brims with dialogue, so the pages fly in a way that reminds me of reading a play. There are several well-developed characters of various walks of life, but we don’t dive deep into their lives, and instead each character serves to further the story of the Quanbeck family, especially that of Grace and Jory, sisters who have been exiled due to Grace’s unexpected pregnancy.
The tension between Grace and her parents is wonderfully portrayed. They are angry and ashamed, yet confront a daughter who finds meaning in her pregnancy due to faith, due to God’s supposed will. Grace’s faith is flawless; she effortlessly spouts scripture and indulges every compulsion to evangelize. But the feverish faith that her parents have instilled in her turns on them, as she uses this very faith to defend what they believe is indefensible. The story’s ending is horribly sad, far more so than I imagined, and the strangest thing is that despite tragedy, several of the characters whom I consider largely to blame fail to learn any lesson whatsoever. People prove to be stubborn, and beliefs often remain intact regardless of evidence and events to the contrary. This idea surfaces at the perfect moment, as I think it may play a crucial role in the next book on my list.
“I’m surrounded by people whose minds are too small to accept anything other than what the newspaper or the television or, excuse me, the science books tell them” (p. 67).
There are keywords that readily sway me when selecting a book to read, including coming-of-age and family saga. The Girl Who Slept with God offers both, as well as a casual study of religious fundamentalism, another favorite subject of mine (see The Poisonwood Bible and A Complicated Kindness). The all-knowing, impenetrable quality of religion forever intrigues me, and I love stories that capture this within the context of growing up, asking questions, and shaping one’s own life.
The Quanbecks are a devoutly religious family living in small town Idaho. There is the kind husband, the depressed wife, and three sisters, Grace, Jory, and Frances. Early in the book, Grace’s faith proves feverish, and she travels to Mexico as part of her “freakish obsession with becoming the world’s youngest evangelist.” She returns home not only pregnant, but also believing that it is the result of providence, hence the title of the book. Though a seemingly sensational set-up, it is not treated as such, and in fact the book largely follows Jory, the middle child who daydreams of things “modern and current and popular and fun.” Jory and Grace are sent to live alone on the outskirts of town to preserve the family’s sanity and reputation, and what ensues is what I am in the midst of. I find myself continously turning the page, a highlighter poised to capture all that is noteworthy and beautiful, and I cannot wait to resume.
July will be difficult to miss because I hardly realized she was here before she was gone. July invokes the strongest visions of summer, perfectly positioned within the season, so its sudden passing leaves me a bit startled though not disappointed. July is for those who wait impatiently for summer, who prefer when the sun is high in the sky, and though I am appreciative, I am not overly enthusiastic. I grow weary when the sun refuses to stop shining, when it creates pressure to be happy, as in, it’s so bright outside, why feel otherwise? In regards to emotions I support equal opportunity, so a mix of sunshine and clouds serves me well.
The Fourth of July was spent in Los Angeles, a city that taps into parts of us that we wish to ignore (see Dry by Augusten Burroughs). My favorite memory from the holiday is picking up vegan chicken pizza at 10pm with amateur fireworks exploding in all directions. I spent time in San Diego the following weekend, and ever since I have settled myself at home in the Bay Area, celebrating summer in the small ways like listening to Leon Bridges’ Coming Home nonstop, and taking road trips north to Napa and south to Santa Cruz.
A thought that I carry into August is that comfort is one of the biggest obstacles to change; comfort keeps us still. I have yet to discover what exactly I will do with this piece of information, so cheers to August.
“I can see the spot where my father placed me the day he shot the picture for the code-o-graph, wanting nothing but the wide, blue sky behind me. Wanting me to look as if I could be anywhere. The Texas plains. The Canadian wilderness. The far horizon of Death Valley. Places I have never gone.”
A Master Plan for Rescue, p. 319
By Janis Cooke Newman
Published 2015 by Riverhead