Joshilyn Jackson wants to talk about miracles. That’s what she says her latest novel, Someone Else’s Love Story, is about. “There’s a virgin birth. There’s a holy sacrifice. There’s more than one kind of resurrection in this book,” she says. “It’s an Easter story.”
It’s an Easter story that begins “on a Friday afternoon at the tail end of a Georgia summer so ungodly hot the air felt like it had all been boiled in red.” On that Friday, 21-year old Shandi Pierce walks into a convenience store with her three-year-old genius son, Natty. Moments later, they’re caught in a robbery and taken hostage.
“Staring down the barrel of an ancient, creaky .32 that could kill us just as dead as a really nice gun,” William Ashe, a stunning specimen of manhood (he looks like Thor), jumps to their rescue, and Shandi, Natty and William’s lives are forever entwined.
Someone Else’s Love Story is a novel that dazzles with detail, drama, humor, and voice.
William, a brilliant geneticist…with Asperger’s syndrome, is a “gray rock of a man,” says Jackson. He needs a “sparkly hammer to SMASH him open and find out he’s a geode.” And, yes, Jackson, a former actor who reads her own books for the audio editions, does talk in all caps.
And, of course, Shandi is that sparkly hammer who tells her family, friends and even herself that she is a single mother due to a virgin birth. “How do you explain to a preschooler, even one as bright as Natty, that his mother was a virgin until a solid year after he was born?” Shandi asks early in the novel. “How could I tell my son that his existence was the only miracle I ever believed in?”
I don’t know what it says about Jackson’s writing (or about me), but from the moment Shandi stated she was a virgin at the time of her son’s birth, I believed her. One hundred percent. When I tell Jackson that, she laughs. “I always knew the book would have a healthy skepticism about the virgin birth. I just didn’t think that Shandi would explain it.” Obviously, I didn’t have any skepticism, and I didn’t want Shandi to explain it. I wanted to keep believing in the miracle.
In fact, by page 42 of the novel, I wrote myself a note: “Why do I find it so easy to accept that Natty is the product of an immaculate conception?”
And on that very page, Shandi says, “When Natty happened, he was born wholly mine and perfect. This is what I whispered into the pink coil of his newborn ear: My body made you up, because the world is so much better with you in it.”
Maybe that’s why I could believe.
But Jackson says she “wanted to fill the book up with huge, unwieldy miracles that are essentially false.…They’re all actually just the workings of physics and science.
“And then I wanted to hide one or two tiny truthful miracles in the book that are so little the reader might not even notice them, but that would have reverberations and consequences and sort of diffuse into the book and change things. So…it’s a book about the nature of miracles and what a miracle really looks like. And if you ask me, yes, I believe in miracles.”
Jackson is a devout Christian. Her character Shandi, the one who believes in her son’s miracle virgin birth, is an agnostic. Shandi’s mother is a zealous Christian, divorced from Shandi’s deeply Jewish dad. And William, who Shandi fantasizes about marrying, is an atheist, still in love with and grieving over Bridget, his fervently Catholic wife—so Catholic that she had planned on becoming a nun.
Jackson wanted Shandi and William to be surrounded by faith but operating outside of it. “We live in a postmodern world where faith is not extant in a lot of people’s lives,” she says. “It’s a huge driving force in mine, and I think it’s a powerful force. And like anything powerful, it can be used for good or ill.”
And she notes, “I’m always interested in people who want to do the right thing within the parameters of this hideous, broken world.…And the people who want to do good, people who—as William loved so much in Bridget—people who love goodness and who try to do the right thing, even as everything is broken around them…that’s what I’m interested in.”
That right there might be Jackson’s greatest miracle.
Suzy Spencer is the author of Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality: A Memoir.