“Illusion” was written by a friend of a friend, and the beautiful young girl on the cover is my friend, T’s, daughter. T knows I love to read and then write about what I read, so one week not that long ago she loaned me her copy to read and review.
It’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. It reads like an autobiography but is actually a work of Christian fiction based on the author Erin Hicks’ experiences with loss and depression. A few chapters in, I sent a text to T asking if the book really was fiction or was it based on a true story. The first-person voice seemed extremely authentic; I felt like I was reading a true experience, told with the depth and sincerity that only someone who has been there could talk about. Hicks writes in her author notes that the story is fictional but based on some of her own experiences with themes of loss, death and depression.
The book’s title comes from the “illusion” created by main character Rylei Cabot in her attempt to hide her depression and pain after she loses her sister in a tragic car accident. Cabot has a crisis of faith and self that ultimately affects her relationships and her career in such a way that she is forced to confront her issues.
The story also deals with issues of drug and alcohol abuse and attempted suicide.
Hicks is a Mississippi native currently working on her Masters of Divinity and pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. “I wrote this book after having numerous youth, and adults, ask me how I get through difficult times in my life,” Hicks writes. “This is my answer for them, in narrative form, about how hope can be found even in the darkest of places at times. My goal with this book, as with any writing, is to bless the reader.”
The short: Hicks impressively uses a fictional story to share authentic and powerful insight into very real issues that secretly plague many people.
This book surprised me, but in a good way.
First, the title is really long. It’s officially A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master.”
The long title isn’t what surprised me; I just had to say it in here somewhere and it’s too long to work casually into a sentence.
The surprise: I really, really enjoyed it. I expected that I wouldn’t like it or that I might like it a little, but that’s not what happened at all. I expected the author, Rachel Held Evans, to have an agenda and to reach conclusions that being a “Biblical woman” meant living the Proverbs 31 life without a fault and doing things like cooking all of your family’s food from scratch, with organic ingredients from your own garden; making your own laundry detergent and soap; having a June Cleaver attitude all the time, come what may. These were my expectations, I think, because there are some people out there that do those things in the name of being a Biblical wife or mother and as a result that’s where my thoughts automatically went.
I also thought that if the above wasn’t true, then Evans was going to make fun of the early Biblical standards for women. That expectation came from my earlier reading of A.J. Jacobs “Year of Living Biblically.” The two projects are similar — Evans even mentions Jacobs book in hers. But Evans seems to got have gotten more out of her year on a personal, spiritual level.
In part, the book read like a graduate school research paper, complete with an identifiable thesis and research methods of just how this social experiment would go.
“Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman?”
I wanted to know that too.
To find the answer, Evans explores the ins and outs of what the Bible says about women, from the early law to the Proverbs 31 woman to the letters of Paul telling women to be silent in the church. She is very thorough in her research and goes outside of her own faith and books to include insight from a Jewish wife and to experience silence in a monastery.
She’s not boring. She laughs at herself and isn’t afraid to look silly doing this, which makes the book entertaining in addition to thought-provoking.
“The Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood, and the notion that it contains a sort of one-size-fits-all formula for how to be a woman of faith is a myth.”
While I concur with her conclusion, the most moving part wasn’t the end but the process. It usually is, right? It’s not where you end up that matters most but the journey getting there.
I love that Evans explores this subject and pulls back the veil on issues that Christian women wrestle with in how we relate to our husbands, children, careers, in the church, and even other women.
I’ll leave you with a favorite prayer, the prayer to St. Teresa of Avila, which is quoted by Evans in the chapter on grace:
Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
“Something truly beautiful can arise from a mistake.” — Casting Off
I had never heard of Casting Off or author Nicole R. Dickson prior to casually running across it one afternoon in the bookstore.
Can I just say — I like that Dickson and I have in common the middle initial “R” in our byline.
Ok, moving right along …
I was in the fiction shelves, in the “D” section, looking for last month’s book club selection, Something Missing by Matthew Dicks (review), when the title of Ms. Dickson’s book caught my attention.
Being a knitter and all, I recognized right away the term “casting off” as a knitting term — it’s what you do to finish your project.
“The act of tying one stitch to another at the end of a knitted work, which releases the work from the needle.”
The above is one of five definitions Dickson uses for “casting off.”
My favorite is this:
“An ending of one thing and the beginning of another.”
A story that centered around knitting as an analogy intrigued me. Yes, the book is partly about actual knitting; the people in the book knit, and have a rich history of knitting, which is why the main character, Rebecca, comes to them: to study their knitting practices. But in the process, the pasts of Rebecca and others are pulled out in such a way that they can’t be ignored any longer and they are too “cast off” like at the end of a knitted work.
“The dust of the past can be in my clothes, on my hair, covering my shoes, but it cannot be in my eyes or ears or mouth.”
Casting Off is entertaining at surface level. I think it will be of greater interest to those who knit than those who don’t. But if given the chance it has a much deeper meaning for all readers about the benefit and process of letting go of past hurts and starting the next thing — the next stitch — one thing, er stitch, at a time.
The premise of this story is incredibly intriguing: a guy breaks into your home and steals things you won’t notice are missing, Like extra bottles of salad dressing, rolls of toilet paper, batteries, scoops of laundry detergent or sugar, drain cleaner.
With the first 100 pages or so I was mesmerized by Martin’s methods and attention to details. The lengths to which Martin goes to steal without getting caught are pretty crazy. Confession, if I may? It reminds me of a time as a kid when I used to fake taking a bath. I’d go into the bathroom, fill up the tub with water and for the 15 minutes or so that I was supposed to be bathing I’d sit on the toilet seat and read a book. To pull off my heist without any suspicion from my parents, I’d splash water on the towel so it’d be damp, wet the soap, wet the bath mat, etc. It would have been simpler to just take the bath. It’s the same here with Martin. It would be simpler for him to just live on honest life. If he can put that much planning and energy into stealing, imagine what he could do if he put those skills to use in honest work.
About a third of the way through, I hit a lull where the chapters seemed a little repetitive; more details about more “clients” and more methods of stealing. But what ultimately got me hooked again, and propelled the story, is Martin’s internal dialogue as he tries to balance his desire to continue stealing with his desire to help his clients with potential problems bigger than a few rolls of missing TP or scoops of Tide. Without giving too much away, it was interesting to observe the mental processes of a thief, who doesn’t think stealing things that people won’t miss is wrong, wrestle with trying to do “the right thing.”
The title “Something Missing” is a clever play on words. Yes, something is missing in these victim’s homes. But something is missing in Martin’s life that he fills with this career of silently taking. He feels as if he his clients are his friends, much like a stalker, which makes sense since he does, in fact, stalk his “clients” to gather intel about their comings and goings and habits to make it easier to unnoticeably break in and steal. Even calling them “clients” instead of victims shows Martin’s mind frame.
Loved the book. Highly recommend.