THE BOOK OF MARVELS by Christopher T. Leland


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Leland's third novel (Mean Time, Mrs. Randall)--about a contemporary small-town southern divorc‚e attempting to balance her new-found faith with her need for intimacy--can be predictable but is still quirky enough to work as an uplifting, largely unsentimental story. Childless Lila Mae Bower, devoted to the ""service of God and man,"" deserted by husband Eddie, ""merely wanted to do right and be happy, which seemed a less and less easy task."" Her overbearing mother urges her to find a husband through ""Matching for the Lord,"" a kind of born-again dating service, and Lila Mae herself is a devotee of TV evangelist Ted Standish and his wife Becky's World of Love. Meanwhile, Lila Mae works at Quiet Meadows, an old-age home, where she befriends the patients and the staff--which includes gay Eliot and Norma, who decides one week that she's a lesbian and another that she's destined to be a nun. Redneck Wellesley Coe is Lila Mae's love interest, and her alcoholic brother Fred is a shell-shocked casualty of the Vietnam War. The plot follows Lila Mae from a rather smug born-again loneliness to an authentic empathy with the larger world: the novel largely avoids milking its stock characters--instead, it fleshes them out, humanizing Lila Mae and satirizing the born-again industry. Ted and Becky, of course, fall in scandal, and Lila Mae's mother becomes a New-Ager. Lila Mae herself, faced with a death at the old-age home, manages to help, having ""come to know alone."" She eventually marries Wellesley and gets pregnant in ""a world in which all was random, spontaneous, in constant flux, and you could make terrible, terrible mistakes, ones you could not correct, ones. . .you would always regret. Then all you could do was move forward, and accept what was given to you."" Quiet, bittersweet, and comic: a novel that has its fun without patronizing its characters, and is finally authentically moving.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Scribners