by Michele Morin
The layers of life, in all their overwhelming proportions, call for a large God. The unexpected diagnosis, the many ways in which we disappoint ourselves, and the messiness of the generations all seem to come home to roost during middle age as parents depart this world and adult children come into their own. Margie Nethercott elected to manage all these complications by carefully selecting a large rock, tying it to her ankle, paddling to the middle of a lake and letting the rock pull her to the bottom.
Her plan would have been flawless except for low rainfall and high temperatures which put the water level at about neck high on a medium height middle-aged woman, leaving her tethered and standed in the middle of the lake. Can You See Anything Now?: A Novel by Katherine James faces head-on the emptiness, weariness, insecurity, and discord of small town life in Trinity, New York where the Nethercott family and a constellation of their friends seek appropriate ways to struggle.
My favorite character, Etta Wallace surveys Trinity’s comings and goings from a white Cracker Barrel rocking chair on her front porch and makes a quiet commitment to Margie’s well-being and recovery. Prescribing banana bread (with nuts) and Crock-Pot dinners, she serves up grace in the evangelical tradition. Their unlikely friendship grew out of the rich soil of Etta’s resolve to “do the opposite”:
” . . . when people are struggling, it seemed to Etta, the people around them run away–embarrassed, uncomfortable. She would do the opposite and introduce herself.”
Finding the glory of God sufficient to carry her down the hill and away from her safe fortress, Etta also found herself walking beside Margie through her adjustment to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and a tragedy on the banks of the Weekeepeemee River that rocked the town.
Those who struggle with mental illness either personally or in their family tree will rejoice to note that Margie does not immediately bounce back from her depression and begin spouting Hillsong lyrics. Pixie’s fraught experimentation with drugs and sex are portrayed as ineffectual methods for taking the edge off the bleakness that had become normal for her. Readers who are sensitive to triggers should know that there’s a good bit of vivid description around a young woman’s habit of self harm (cutting) and the internal dialogue leading up to Margie’s attempted suicide.
Can You See Anything Now? is a complicated read and the winner of Christianity Today’s 2018 award for fiction. The believing community needs fictional accounts of family life set in the raw details of walking this broken ground that do not require a happy ending to be redemptive. If you are disposed to tolerate some obscenities and profanities in your reading, James’s lyrically written prose will encourage you to look for the thread of hope in your own story.
Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who blogs at Living Our Days. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. She is active in educational ministries with her local church and her writing has appeared at SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, (in)courage, and elsewhere. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy, finds joy in sitting around a table surrounded by women with open Bibles, and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This doesn’t sound like the normal Michele book. Thank you for reading and giving us a glimpse of real and raw life that sometimes we are sheltered from.
Ha! You’re right! I don’t read much fiction, and I review even LESS. For some reason, reviewing fiction feels very intimidating to me, but this book was worth the risk.
So good to hear from you, Diane!
Your neighbor at Faith on Fire link up. This sounds like an interesting one. Life has many struggles and when we can look at them from another viewpoint in a novel it can be helpful sometimes. I always appreciate your reviews. Thanks for dping this one!
I think fiction is our opportunity to “practice” dealing with conflict. We can try on the strategies used by characters, and see how they worked in that fictional world, at least. Obviously, conditions in reality might lead to a different outcome, and we can also fiercely reject decisions made by fictional characters and save ourselves a lot of heartache.
Thanks, Cheryl, for your encouragement!
This one sounds really good. Thanks for the review.
It really was, Jeannie!
Challenging, because it’s the kind of content you wish didn’t happen in real life–but definitely worth the effort.