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never more threatened than whUe putting food into the body"—but Salzman pushes beyond this easy conflict and finds a more compeUing one: Sister John's visions are, in fact, a symptom of temporal-lobe epilepsy, a fact that explains the terrible headaches that accompany them. When Sister John learns that her condition can be cured through surgery, she is faced with a moral and personal dUemma: have the surgery and discover that the visions were nothing more than epUeptic fancy, or neglect the surgery and hope the visions are God-inspired. What follows is Sister John's choice, and the consequences of that choice. Although the opening pages feel off-putting at first, with Unes such as "powerless to save herseU, she drifted up toward infinity until the vacuum sucked the feeble light out of her," Salzman's terms soon become clear. You lose the suspicion that this book might be an inspirational potboiler and quickly fall under its speU. Salzman 's prose is spare and unmannered but doesn't lack in detaü or emotional impact. He is able to characterize even the most minor figures with a quick, sure-handed brushstroke , and the impression ofmonastic life that emerges is both unsentimental and full of feeling. Of the petty bickering among the Sisters, Salzman observes, "The real penance in cloistered Ufe, most Sisters agreed, was not isolation: it was the impossibility of getting away from people one would not normaUy have chosen as friends." Divine calling meets Survivor. The middle third of the novel gives some nice shading to Sister John's past, a past that Salzman paraUels with an event in the present: a new candidate's indoctrination into the monastery. The story of Sister John's (Helen, before taking her vows) movement from farm girl to cloistered nun is a necessary break from the current drama and provokes the most lyrical prose of the novel, as in Helen's chUdhood memory of the nuns at school: "Their habits were Uke houses. Helen imagined that they slept standing up in church, their hands tucked in their sleeves and theu veils bülowing out Uke tents." At just under 181 pages (with long space breaks between chapters, each separated by an illustration), Salzman 's novel can reasonably be read in a sitting or two. Its pace also lends itself to quick reading; Salzman's instinct is to keep things streamlined, rarely lingering on an image or scene for more than a few paragraphs. The virtue of such a technique is that we're always getting the story first. The UabiUty is that a few of the scenes feel underripe. Stül, the story is just so plain good on a pure dramatic level that you read right through the thinner sections without feeling too much loss. Lying Awake is a remarkable novel, short but generous, easüy digestible but psychologically complex, too. It might be one of the finest short novels around today. What's most remarkable, though, is that Salzman has written a book that somehow manages to concretely dramatize an abstract and very elusive idea: faith. (AEV) Sweet Hearts by Melanie Rae Thon Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 240 pp., $23 210 · The Missouri Review Sweet Hearts is Melanie Rae Thon's third novel, foUowing Iona Moon and Meteors in August. Thon has also authored two story collections, Girls in the Grass and F/rsf, Body. Set in contemporary northwestern Montana, Sweet Hearts is narrated by Marie Zimmer, a woman of white and Native American heritage who has been deaf since age nine. She is, she tells us, relating scenes of a story in sign language: "I'm foUowing the chUdren not on the road, not today, but in my mind, in the future, in a story I teU, though I do not speak and nobody listens. I have no choice. But you don't have to watch. You can go home and lock your doors anytime the scenes I sign scare you." In saying this, Marie also confirms that she is telling the story to heal hersetf and to better accept her fractured, sorrowful heritage. She is telling the story to better understand her mother, who drowned herself...


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pp. 210-211
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