A young Lutheran converts to Catholicism and then questions the church’s stance on birth control in this novel of a woman’s self-discovery.
Britt Anderson attends college in rural Minnesota and feels trapped by her father’s prohibition on her becoming a nurse. Jesse, a college boyfriend, abruptly enlists in the U.S. Army to serve in the Korean War, and when she learns her current best friend, Andy Hughes, has likewise joined the Navy, Britt is distraught. Despite the objections of her Lutheran parents and Andy’s Catholic family, the warning from her pastor that she is doomed to hell, and her misgivings at interrupting her education, Britt and Andy rush into marriage. Britt converts to Catholicism and struggles to conform to the church’s teachings on a wife’s proper submission, penance, and avoidance of birth control. As a military wife, she is left alone for months at a time, often while pregnant, and forced to move around the country and live in claustrophobic quarters. She tries to make the best of it. Their parents soften, although Britt’s father lays down a new rule: no more than three children. Conflicted, Britt secretly uses a diaphragm and then discards it in a fit of religious guilt. She and Andy stay celibate for eight months, straining their relationship. Frustrated, longing to resume her education and have a career, Britt becomes pregnant for the fifth time, and Jesse makes a surprise reappearance in her life.
The unfortunate title, which hardly captures the story’s emotional depth, misleads the reader into expecting a pro–abortion rights screed. An introduction explains that the novel’s title comes from a 2015 interview with Pope Francis. Nevertheless, this is a well-written family saga centered on a freethinking woman, with fascinating details on making ends meet, antiquated medical attitudes, and the difficulties of raising children in the early 1950s. The characters develop slowly through dialogue and drama, and Britt’s inner conflicts arouse empathy and alarm. The final chapter seems rushed, adds some unnecessary religious commentary, and concludes with an epilogue that likewise appears tacked on. Nevertheless, this is a riveting first effort.
A well-considered, insightful mixture of personal drama and early feminism.