Gail Godwin was born in Alabama, grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and received her doctorate in English from the University of Iowa. She has taught at Vassar College and Columbia University and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1981 Award in Literature from the National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Her short stories, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. Three of her critically acclaimed novels, The Odd Woman, Violet Clay, and A Mother and Two Daughters, were nominated for the National Book Award. Her other highly praised books include The Good Husband, Glass People, The Perfectionists, Dream Children, and Mr. Bedford and the Muses.
Godwin's latest novel is as comforting and evocative as its title. It's striking, at a time when so many books on spirituality are flooding the market, that so few novelists of skill and perceptiveness seem drawn to religion as a subject. Susan Howatch is one, of course, but Godwin has surely scored some kind of first in making her heroine here a female Anglican minister. Margaret Bonner, whom Godwin admirers will remember as the subject of Father Melancholy's Daughter, is now the pastor at All Saints High Balsam, a parish set in a conservative little resort community high in the Smokies in Western North Carolina. She married the much older Adrian Bonner, who is struggling as headmaster of a local boys' school, and who is apparently still daunted by thoughts of Margaret's youthful fling with Ben MacGruder, now a noted pop singer. Into their lives, as they approach the millennium (the book is set a year from now, at Advent 1999) comes Tony, a strange old man with dyed hair who represents himself as a monk on the move; Grace Munger, a local woman with a grim past who has set up as an evangelical revivalist and seeks Margaret's participation in an end-time parade to bring salvation and healing to the mountains; and Chase Zorn, a bright but self-destructive orphaned youngster who is a student at Adrian's school. Among a welter of conflicting emotions and loyalties, Margaret somehow keeps her sanity, even her serenity, intact, and learns to put together a long and loving life with a daughter born out of the sorrows of that strange and dramatic time. The carefully researched details of a woman minister's daily rituals are fascinating, and Godwin offers her usual insights into her characters' shifting feelings, compounded of psychological astuteness and keen empathy. Gracefully written and embracing a worldly but genuine sense of goodness and human possibility, this kind of book is rare these days. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections. (Mar.)
"Rich. Satisfying. Luscious . . . Evensong reawakened in these
weary eyeballs the joy of reading. . . . It's that old-fashioned
concept, a good read."
"A DEEPLY CONSIDERED, EVEN DIGNIFIED NOVEL . . . One stays
engaged with the story for sheer narrative hook: As with story
lines from Dickens . . . you simply want to find out who does what
to whom. . . . The final beauty of Evensong is its ability to
address God--to address the mystery of faith by comprehending, then
embracing, this premise of uncertainty itself."
--The Boston Sunday Globe "EVENSONG LINGERS IN THE MIND. . . . Meticulousness and precision are, indeed, Godwin's greatest strengths. In matters liturgical and clerical, her command is impeccable."
--The New York Times Book Review "[A] SENSITIVE, PERFECTLY PACED NOVEL . . . A story full of fresh, spiritual wisdom . . . Smashing one of the strangest taboos in American literature, Godwin may have finally brought religion back from the wilderness and made it a safe subject for literary fiction."
--The Christian Science Monitor "[A] RICH NEW NOVEL . . . with the narrative verve and moral gravity that made earlier novels of hers so appealing."
The New York Times
There's not much hope and the poor are getting poorer in the small town of High Balsam‘which makes things hard for Margaret Bonner, pastor of the local Episcopal church. But then three strangers come to town, and her life really gets complicated.