What would you do if the Virgin Mary came to visit for a week? Taking off from this entertaining premise, the author of In the Language of Love (1996) falls short, though not for want of trying.
The narrator, a fussy but endearing writer in her 40s who lives in some northern suburb, seems an unlikely candidate for divine visitation. But Mary, weary from constant miracle-making, nonetheless takes up temporary residence in her guest bedroom. Despite the casual slacks, brown cardigan, and sneakers, there is no doubt this is indeed the Mother of God. And although Mary requests complete secrecy, she realizes the writer will be too tempted (so to speak) by the material at hand and agrees to allow a book to be written about her so long as it's called a “novel.” Presumably, this is the result: a document of quiet mornings spent over coffee and the paper, trips to the mall, and other quotidian events. Anecdotes about Mary's previous earthly visitations and stories about saints and martyrs both familiar and obscure comprise much of the text; they illustrate the strength of belief and narrate the course of history from a Marian perspective. Schoemperlen also makes random forays into the narrator's memory, more often than not including discussions of Pythagorean theory, the nature of truth, the melding of history and fiction, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Though these tidbits and occasionally endless lists speak to the narrator's larger examination of the nature of fact and faith, they ultimately prove frustrating. The Virgin Mary is sitting right there in the kitchen! Yet Schoemperlen dangles her in front of the reader for 300 pages without ever allowing Mary much to say for herself. The supposed core of the story, meeting the Mother of God, isn't strong enough to balance the tangents.
Ambitious and intelligent, but more a collection of fascinating essays than a fulfilling piece of fiction.