COVENANT OF GRACE by Jane Gilmore Rushing
Kirkus Star

COVENANT OF GRACE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

There's not a smitch of flab on this sinewy, imaginative version of the 17th-century Boston career of Anne Hutchinson--who was banished from Massachusetts Bay colony in 1637 for bringing ""great disturbance to the peace of our churches."" Rushing (The Raincrow) roots the Hutchinson conflict firmly in the strangulating tangle of a (relatively) new-minted Protestant theology, which was as absorbing a topic of daily Mass. Bay converse as weather and taxes. Unlike Marcy Heidish's kindly, bustling housewife (Witnesses, 1980), Rushing's Anne is shrewd and intelligent, constantly burrowing through Scripture to clarify, refine, and refute. . . while merchant-husband William, usually seen as a dim St. Joseph, is intelligent and dignified here. And the two mighty monoliths who baffle and then obstruct Anne and her followers are viewed in the round: Gov. John Winthrop, often dismissed as Puritan wormwood, is a brilliant politician with some right on his side; and Rev. John Cotton, for whose preaching Anne and her family crossed the Atlantic, is seen as ""darkening""--from angelic pronouncements to callous temporizing to a final raving sermon. Thus, with no cardboard villains around, Rushing is able to focus on the heart of the controversy--""covenant of works"" (salvation via good deeds and thoughts) vs. ""covenant of grace"" (salvation simply through the consciousness of the Deity within). And it is the ""scantling"" shade of difference between Anne and Cotton--especially her contempt for the ""covenant of works""--which strengthens her statements, attracts huge crowds to her meetings, and causes rifts among the clergy. Fearing disruption, Winthrop joins and leads the forces against Anne; the battle will take the form of dirty election tricks, exhausting examinations, civil and church trials; pitiful tales of suicide, murder, and adultery weigh heavily on both sides. And ""When people act through revelation rather than reason, there is no way of knowing what they may do."" A judicious, intelligent, and demanding novel--with a convincing sense of the temper of an American society both alien and familiar.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday