by Michelle Buckman
Sophia Institute Press, 2010
Every now and then, a novel comes along that is so powerful and so well-written that it will stay with you forever. “Rachel’s Contrition” by Michelle Buckman is that kind of novel. Part of the Chisel and Cross imprint from Sophia Institute Press, it is Catholic fiction at its finest. If you are looking for light-hearted escapism, this is not the story for you. Rather, this is a story that delves into the deepest and darkest parts of humanity. Throughout the course of this book, the reader must face the evils of jealousy, murder, rape, and the inner workings of a mentally ill mind.
Rachel is a mother whose small daughter has died tragically. She is buried in her grief, unable to see any light at all. She has lost everything. Her husband has sent her away and her surviving son, whom she sees only sporadically, seems to hate her. She lives in a drug-induced haze where memories from both past and present come to haunt her. Into that haze walks Lilly, a young teen suffering from her own secrets and pain. With Lilly’s help and some divine intervention in the form of St. Therese’s autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” Rachel begins the long road back.
One interesting feature of this novel is that Buckman focuses on the dark side of St. Therese. Her little way is there and Rachel does learn from that and attempts to put it into practice. But that is not what comforts her. Rather, in St. Therese, she finds someone who understands the darkness. St. Therese wrote, “But it was night, the dark night of the soul. Like Jesus during his agony in the garden, I felt myself abandoned and there was no help for me on earth or in heaven. God had abandoned me. . . I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. One must have passed through this dark tunnel to understand its blackness.”
Buckman writes of that darkness with such realism. One can only presume that she herself has walked through it. “Rachel’s Contrition” is a novel for all who have been deeply wounded by life. It is a painful story with no easy answers, but it offers the promise of healing. It is a glimmer of light in the midst of the dark. It is a novel that will twist your heart and leave you breathless. You will not want to put it down until you reach the final word at which point you will once again be able to exhale.
Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur