Sunday, September 28, 2014

What Happened to Sophie Wilder? by Christopher Beha

A young woman attempts to live according to the rules of her newly adopted Catholic faith

Sophie Wilder, an orphaned creative writing student, marries another orphaned student whose pleasant aunt introduces Sophie to the Catholic faith. Later, during Mass, Sophie feels a numinous joy she is intent on recapturing. She joins the Church, publishes a well received book of short stories, then disappears. After several years, Charlie Blakeman, a young novelist, one of her many past lovers, encounters her in Manhattan during a crisis in her life. Sophie tells him the story of what she has been doing. And it hasn’t been writing.

I really wanted to like this book. It’s a novel of ideas. The idea is what if you could achieve lasting joy or peace by submitting your human will to an outdated, likely fantastical, more than slightly ridiculous, half the time inconvenient moral code, would you? However, that particular idea is inconsistently presented.  It's on the novel side of the things that the execution stumbles – the fictional dream, the prose, the characterization, the dialogue. Worst of all the story begins in a writing workshop. The prose is sonorous and phony, the characterization barely makes an imprint, and the dialogue is creaky. Sophie Wilder is not a real person but a blowup doll. The only interesting character was the dying blackguard father-in-law but then the reader is supposed to believe this crusty old bastard carts around 24 boxes of newspaper clippings everywhere he goes. Novels should spring like Athena from the head of Zeus, helmeted and ready for battle. Not armed with meandering tension and unmotivated actions. However, what I did like about this book is that there are two endings.

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