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These 11 interlinked stories--about a convent sister in the days before Vatican II who eventually leaves her order--judiciously and successfully explore the religious life. Copeland (a pseudonym) carefully evokes the discipline that is necessary to religious community, but repressive to a young, educated woman cast among older nuns suspicious of the world and its changes. In ""Sins of Omission,"" Claire finds a mentor, Mother Magdalena, while attending a Catholic high school, but she also discovers how to lie to meet expectations. In ""Taking the Discipline,"" Claire, at 21, is reduced at times to medieval mortification. ""Obedience"" finds her taking a superior so literally that she decides to drown two kittens in penance for misdeeds. In ""Higher Education,"" Claire, invited to a conference, must wait on her superior's consent, and then cannot drink coffee with secular folk after her presentation. She learns to keep things to herself: "". . .what Reverend Mother saw as freedom of spirit another might judge a lapse in obedience."" In the title story, turmoil descends on the order when it closes several schools. ""The Nature of Love"" brings Claire, a graduate student, to the subject of ""men,"" and she finds a ""responsive heart."" Finally, forced to give up too much of herself, she develops sharp pains (""The Perils of Translation"") that have no physical cause and resigns, going to Florida, buying lipstick, and so on. Then, in ""At Peace"" (selected for The Best American Short Stories, 1977), she realizes that ""Life has a way of simply going on""--and comes upon the obituary of a feisty, uneducated sister who cooked, kept plants, and gruffly became Claire's confidante. A touching fictional memoir--occasionally a little too programmatic in its method but mostly evocative and incisive.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking