READ: The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin (Abingdon Press, 2009)
I wondered if I had done that as I turned the first pages of this book. I knew the author had a distinctive voice. I knew it was a “village” story in the tradition of Miss Read’s Fairacre or Jan Karon’s Mitford novels. I knew it had at least some relationship to prayer. And I knew it had received high praise.
All this meant I was more pleased than surprised to find the book among the New Books at our local library. After all, Library Journal named it one of the top five Christian titles of 2009. Half-excited, half-fearful, I snatched it from the shelf.
The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow failed to meet my expectations. It surpassed them in ways I’m not sure I can articulate. How could I have anticipated a novel whose heroine, resident of a former funeral home, weighs more than 600 pounds? How could I have expected one small story that combines codependent relationships, lingering childhood wounds, and the obsessive hungers of love and hate in such an intriguing way?
I don’t know quite how she did it, but Magnin drew me into the world of Bright’s Pond—and kept me there. The relationship between sisters Griselda and Agnes Sparrow perplexed and enthralled me. The complexity of all her characters, in fact, moved them off the page and into my heart. When trust broke and an idol fell, I mourned. But I also celebrated Magnin’s skill as an artist and skillful teller of truth.
The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow mixes the power of prayer and the frailty of human relationships in a readable, believable, humorous, and horrifying way. Magnin’s amazing debut novel caused me to examine what I believe. It also caused me to consider the impact of my own woundedness, seen and unseen.
Visit Bright’s Pond soon, but don’t carry your expectations with you. This book, like the town’s celebrated Full Moon Café, carries a full menu of original, delightful treats. Take the time to read—and to savor—each one.