Women on the fringes of the spiritual world.
In her first book, Shirk (Women’s Studies, English, and Creative Writing/Pratt Institute) seeks to examine why American women have “had to find their own ways [to divinity] outside the prescribed patriarchal orders,” but the narrative is too autobiographical and scattered to fully deliver on that promise. The author, whose eccentric family has roots in both the early Anabaptist movement and the Christian Science church, weaves her own journey of spiritual discovery throughout the book. Tied only to the edges of faith traditions, her journey leaves her mostly without answers. “If I have learned anything,” she notes, “it’s that the truth shifts. The modes by which to interrogate it must always change, and are always changing.” Each chapter revolves erratically around a central theme. In some cases, those themes fit her thesis well—e.g., explorations of early Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, and New Orleans voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. In some cases, the tie is more tenuous, as in her chapter on Sojourner Truth, in which Shirk compares Truth to her own grandmother. A chapter on Flannery O’Connor is obscured by a focus on New York City, and other chapters have little apparent bearing on the subject matter. In one chapter, the author spends pages on the subject of smoking, and another focuses on her brother’s mental illness. Feminism, family relations, and other similar subjects come into play, but the digressions serve only to pull readers away from the author’s main subject, and the occasional profanity sprinkled throughout seems forced. Rather than a book about women who have acted as spiritual leaders, this is a story about the author and her own search for identity.
Some nuggets of insight are overwhelmed by a rambling, unavailing narrative.