Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Accidentally killing one’s own child? Forgetting your own child in the car, leaving him or her all day and coming out of work to find a dead baby in the back seat–most of us cannot even “go there,” much less spend hours of our lives probing the depths of such unbearable stories.
Michelle Buckman goes where other authors fear to tread, bravely tackling a horrific subject straight from today’s headlines. “Rachel’s Contrition” is a 2010 bestseller on Amazon for Women’s Fiction and a 2011 winner of the Catholic Arts and Letters Award (CALA), or Lily Award, for adult fiction.
Escapism, an easy beach read, this is not. As Laura H. Pearl (author of YA coming-of-age novel “Finding Grace”) warns, “The subject matter is quite difficult, excruciatingly so at times.”
Grief is a problematic topic for big houses that want to sell to everybody. Too often, they refuse to publish novels that focus on the process of grieving. Real life grief in a novel can make people uncomfortable in a way they choose not to experience–by not buying books about the aftermath of tragedy and loss. Books about bombed buildings and downed airliners sell, of course. Readers shell out money for action. But will they stick around for the long, agonizing process of picking up the pieces and learning how to move on?
I know of a woman whose daughter was killed in an automobile accident. She found fiction irrelevant after that catastrophic event, but one self-published novel about a grieving mother whose son was murdered did touch her in a positive way. And that is what the indie author had hoped her novel would do–ultimately uplift.
Michelle Buckman’s novel is ultimately uplifting, but it’s a long, dark road to get to the point where Rachels’ contrition turns to redemption.
THE STORY: In one of those horrible headline-news events about babies forgotten all day in a hot car, Rachel Winters loses her baby girl, then her husband, home, and custody of their son. Delusional with grief, she moves into the guest house of a friend. Saint Therese of Lisieux shows on a Holy Card and in other guises, an aspect of Catholic mysticism I find irresistible. Another ally shows up in Rachel’s life in the flesh-and-blood form of a teenager named Lilly who looks as tough as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but is hiding personal traumas. Lilly has suffered incest and the loss of her beloved brother. The closer Rachel grows closer to Lilly and Saint Therese, the more she starts remembering the horrors her tortured mind has tried to suppress.
It isn’t easy, reading about a mentally ill woman whose infant daughter who was left to die in a car. Her own story is hard enough. It’s too much, that while trying to recover, she lives with (or near) an unthinkably dysfunctional family.
Rachel grew up without a father. Her mother bounced from man to man. In college Rachel reinvented herself as a girl from the right side of the tracks, even scoring marriage to a doctor. Years later, her low self esteem is still there–along with guilt at pretending to be someone better than she really is. With her perfect husband, son and baby daughter, she might have held up all the days of her life–but then comes the test. Even the strongest, sanest parent is profoundly challenged to survive the death of a child.
One of the most engaging aspects of this novel is the way Rachel keeps glimpsing a young woman who reminds her, somehow, of “The Little Flower,” St. Therese, who Rachel has found on a holy card. St. Therese showers roses from heaven on the agonized mother who so desperately needs a little grace and a lot of peace.
Another reward (this is not a spoiler alert!) for readers is seeing Lilly transformed from snarky, tatted and pierced teenager to a young woman on the road to healing.
This novel gets up close and personal with a timely topic that is too horrible to think about. Bravo, for finding the courage to “go there,” novelist Michelle Buckman!
Series: Chisel & Cross Books
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Sophia Institute Press (September 30, 2010)
About this author
My writing journey began in my youth. Although born in New York, most of my childhood was spent in Ontario, Canada, and many long winter nights were spent reading an abundance of novels and penning tales. My family moved to North Carolina while I was a teenybopper, which was a great relief for me. I’d had enough cold to last me a lifetime. In my new home, I discovered the peace of spending afternoons walking the endless Carolina beaches. With over half my life lived in the south, I have discovered the advantage of writing like a southerner from an outsider’s point of view.
Although I never lost my zest for writing stories and poetry, I studied computer programming in college because it seemed more practical than a degree in English, but when my son was six weeks old, I quit my day job and turned computer programming into what I loved best—writing, beginning with computer software manuals that I could write at home. Eventually I expanded my writing into freelance writing for trade magazines, then, in my free time between non-fiction assignments, birthing four daughters, potty training, and soccer games, I returned to my truelove—fiction.