In what reads like a Bible blog—a literary, layman’s interpretation—the author comes to terms with the death of his mother and a whole lot more after discovering her biblical notes and annotations.
As a highly respected literary critic, essayist and novelist, Kirn (Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever, 2009, etc.) inherited more skepticism than faith from his mother. He had not read the Bible until he discovered, after his mother’s death, that she had not only read it, likely more than once, but had taken copious notes. In those notes and the Scripture that inspired them, he discovered “my mother’s ghost. It swirled up out of the margins of her Bible and granted my wish to hear her voice again.” Thus motivated, Kirn began to read the Bible through the eyes of his “freethinker” mother and to confront the God who imbued mankind with sin and mortality—the God who let his mother suffer in her final stages. “Maybe because my first motive was love, I’m afraid there’s a lot of anger in what I’ve written,” he admits. “How could there not be? The half-shaved head. The morphine. The Bible stories themselves, so harsh and violent. Most of the anger is mine. Some is my mother’s. But all of it belongs to God in some way. It came from him; why not return it?” The entries are as short as they are provocative, frequently assuming an accusatory familiarity that fundamentalists might well find blasphemous.
If Kirn has continued reading the Bible, he should continue writing about it, for his responses to Job and the New Testament (as well as his mother’s) might well be even pricklier than what he offers here.