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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

A narrator unusual in contemporary fiction - a devout young man not the object of condescension

Kevin Canty's story in current New Yorker, God's Work, is another variant on the coming-of-age, first-love/crush story - the variant being in this case that the teenage boy is a devout Christian who spends a lot of his time, sometimes against his will or, perhaps, against his instincts (hormones?), with his mother leafleting for their church or attending prayer meetings. It's summer vacation, and story opens with them ringing doorbells, hoping to distribute flyers and draw people to their church. His mother seems to be a soft-spoken and charitable young woman - we don't learn too much about her - and the boy, the narrator, is very much under her wing. Few people invite them in but one who does is a somewhat threatening-looking man who invites them in for coffee and engages in some provocative discussion - he doesn't believe in god or an afterlife. Turns out his daughter is a year ahead of the narrator in school and a good-looking girl who dresses flamboyantly. He's very embarrassed that she sees him in these circumstances - but as it turns out, she starts to attend services, dresses modestly, asks him to join her on a walk - and although his mother is at first skeptical (she offers to chaperon the walk!), the boy "prays on it" on goes out a few times with the young woman. He's very drawn to her, wishes they could kiss or more, is unable, however, approach her without agonizing guilt. She continues to come to church and then, one day, her father shows up, makes a scene and drags her out of the church - and next time boy and mother pass their house they're gone, end of story. It seems very credible and it's told from the viewpoint of a character not often seen in contemporary fiction - a devout young man who's not the object of scorn or condescension - and there are some mysterious edges to the story - for example, who's the boy's father? he's never even alluded to - but the story does lack a little bit of punch - the true conflict not erupting until the very end and then left a bit to the sideline. The girl is the most intriguing character in the story, and we just don't know enough about her point of view or about her relationship with the troubling father, even beyond the scope of the story - although maybe Canty isn't through with this character yet, who knows.

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