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EVENSONG by Gail Godwin Kirkus Star

EVENSONG

By Gail Godwin

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-345-37244-1
Publisher: Ballantine

In a satisfying sequel to Father Melancholy’s Daughter (1990), Godwin contemplates family ties, the prickly bonds of marriage, and the varieties of religious faith. Walter and Ruth Gower’s daughter is now Margaret Bonner, 33, an Episcopal minister like her father, married to his former helpmeet Adrian Bonner. A friend accused Margaret of reproducing her dead parents— mistakes, and that’s partly true: like Ruth, she has married a much older man subject to bad bouts of depression, in Adrian’s case taking the form of maddening assertions of unworthiness. Margaret hasn—t yet bolted as her mother did, but the Bonner marriage is not in good shape as Margaret’s first-person account begins at the end of November 1999. —The eve of the Third Millennium— exacerbates tensions in High Balsam, a North Carolina town nestled in the Smoky Mountains where year-rounders— resentment of the wealthy summer people has recently sparked some ugly incidents. Freelance fundamentalist Grace Munger proposes to heal these tensions with a Millennium Birthday March for Jesus, aggressively pursuing the reluctant Margaret’s support. Other new arrivals contributing to the story’s complications are Tony, a lay Episcopalian brother who has closer links to the Bonners than he initially reveals; and Chase Zorn, a troubled teenager at the school where Adrian serves as chaplain. As usual with Godwin, all the characters are superbly drawn, particularly the irritating but lovable Adrian and ruthlessly manipulative Grace, who nonetheless arouses feelings of emotional kinship in Margaret. The young minister herself is a thoroughly engaging heroine whose struggles with spiritual and domestic commitment are convincingly and unpretentiously depicted. In Godwin’s leisurely, nouveau-Victorian narrative, people are sometimes improbably quick to lay out their life-stories for strangers and astoundingly well-informed about their motives, but that suits the book’s reflective tone, as does the epilogue, which wraps up loose ends 20 years later. A solid piece of work from one of our most thoughtful popular novelists.