Grossman’s engaging debut memoir contrasts her years as a postulant nun with her later, secular life.
During her all-American upbringing in small-town Illinois, Grossman defined her life by her relationships to both the Catholic Church and the summer carnival, which serve as this well-structured memoir’s symbolic poles. As “a good girl, programmed into perfection mode,” she instinctively avoided the “sin and debauchery” that the carnival seemed to represent. Instead, she found comfort in the discipline of the church of her “grandfatherly God.” However, she became troubled by this strict division between body and spirit when she entered adulthood. As a teenager, she wore tight skirts and tried to attract male attention. She took her failure at romance as proof that she actually had a religious vocation, although friends and family tried to dissuade her. Once inside the convent, she found that the regulations were stringent: One should never criticize or question nor pursue any sort of individuality. “Convent rules whittled away my personality,” Grossman writes. She endured five years as Sister Greta before a chance viewing of the 1965 movie The Sound of Music convinced her there was life outside the church. The day she left, June 23, 1966, marks both the beginning of her new life and her book’s midpoint. The memoir’s latter half may be less compelling than the hothouse atmosphere of her Catholic formation, but its lyrical descriptions and excellent re-created dialogue, based on contemporaneous journals, enliven the story. The author caught up on everything she missed, attending feminist discussion groups, seeing risqué films—and resuming dating. Before long, she was engaged to an Alabama journalist who bought them both luxurious clothes and an extended European honeymoon. “Self-indulgence was a novelty,” she admits, but their lavish lifestyle masked fundamental incompatibility. A Chicago teaching career and single parenthood might not have been what Grossman always envisioned, but she now gracefully accepts the course her life has taken: “We were not a storybook family, but a dear family nonetheless.”
An absorbing, unpredictable life story inside and outside the church.