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

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

A short story in the New Yorker that feels both authentic and exotic

Surprising and unusual story in current New Yorker from a writer new to me and probably to most readers, Kirstin Valdez Quade - story call Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224), and it reads as a contemporary bio of a medieval saint written by her older sister; no idea if this is based on one of the lives of the saints or is entirely Quade's creation. It's written in what feels like contemporary (to us) voice, so it's easy to follow and easy to in a sense read around the edges of the story. For ex., the narrator tells how her sister "died" and was prepared for burial and the "rose" to sit in the rafters of the chapel; today we can sense that no doubt what appeared to be death was some form of stroke or seizure, but at the time this seemed to be miraculous. The sainted sister is anything but saintly, over the course of her life: Her propensity is to be mean, self-centered, odd, and sanctimonious - screaming at various villagers and others that they are harlots and sluts, uttering weird prophecies and predictions (some of which turn out to be accurate - again, reading around the edges, we can see how a few were bound to be accurate, and everyone forgets about the spurious). The odd and anti-social behavior that in the 12th century people may have thought to be possession or the mark of God is more readily explained or explained away today as some form of mental illness. It sill raises the question as to why Christine would be considered holy by her contemporaries rather than marked or damned - as was I would think would have been more often the case/diagnosis. Quade does a nice job, in the final paragraphs, explaining the sainthood of Christina; the story altogether - though not the kind I ordinarily would read - has a ring of both the authentic and the exotic, a snapshot of a life in the middle ages and a look at a very strange personality from the point of view of those closest to her and most harmed by the astonishing Christina.

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