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4.3 3
by Gail Godwin

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To read Gail Godwin is to touch the very core of human experience. With inimitable grace and aching emotional precision, Godwin probes our own complexities in characters whose lives oscillate between success and struggle, stoic resolve and quixotic temptation, bitter disappointment and small, sacred joys. Now with Evensong, she again translates our everyday


To read Gail Godwin is to touch the very core of human experience. With inimitable grace and aching emotional precision, Godwin probes our own complexities in characters whose lives oscillate between success and struggle, stoic resolve and quixotic temptation, bitter disappointment and small, sacred joys. Now with Evensong, she again translates our everyday existence into soul-touching truths as she brings to brilliantly realized life the people of a small Smoky Mountain town—and a woman whose world is indelibly altered by them.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rich. Satisfying. Luscious . . . Evensong reawakened in these weary eyeballs the joy of reading. . . . It's that old-fashioned concept, a good read."
—USA Today

"A DEEPLY CONSIDERED, EVEN DIGNIFIED NOVEL . . . One stays engaged with the story for sheer narrative hook: As with story lines from Dickens . . . you simply want to find out who does what to whom. . . . The final beauty of Evensong is its ability to address God—to address the mystery of faith by comprehending, then embracing, this premise of uncertainty itself."
—The Boston Sunday Globe

"EVENSONG LINGERS IN THE MIND. . . . Meticulousness and precision are, indeed, Godwin's greatest strengths. In matters liturgical and clerical, her command is impeccable."
—The New York Times Book Review

"[A] SENSITIVE, PERFECTLY PACED NOVEL . . . A story full of fresh, spiritual wisdom . . . Smashing one of the strangest taboos in American literature, Godwin may have finally brought religion back from the wilderness and made it a safe subject for literary fiction."
—The Christian Science Monitor

"[A] RICH NEW NOVEL . . . with the narrative verve and moral gravity that made earlier novels of hers so appealing."
—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
   The New York Times

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
[A] rich new novel...with the narrative verve and moral gravity that made earlier novels of hers so appealing.
The New York Times
Ron Charles
[A] sensitiveperfectly paced novel...Smashing one of the strangest taboos in American literatureGodwin may have finally brought religion back from the wilderness and made it a safe subject for literary fiction. —The Christian Science Monitor
Entertainment Weekly
...[L]ush, ruminative....[grapples] with the relevance of spirituality in contemporary lives...
Claire Messud
...[A] novel, set on the cusp of the millennium, in which our society's anxieties are played out in microcosm....[I]n spite of its infelicities and occasional straining for effect, Evensong lingers in the mind. —The New York Times Book Review
Paul Gray
The author...has created a character who has enough flaws to satisfy contemporary skeptics but who also struggles convincingly with the old-fashioned task of being a good person.
Time Magazine
Brigitte Weeks
Gail Godwin is a talented and courageous novelist...and a terrific storyteller. She creates for her readers, whatever their points of reference, a tangible world full of people we could meet or already have met....It is an entertaining and fast moving story...it expands the world.
Washington Post Book World
Deirdre Donahue
Evensong reawakened in these very weary eyeballs the joy of reading....Rich. Satisfying. Luscious....What makes this novel so engaging is its sense of a small world fully realized.
USA Today
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Godwin's latest novel is as comforting and evocative as its title. It's striking, at a time when so many books on spirituality are flooding the market, that so few novelists of skill and perceptiveness seem drawn to religion as a subject. Susan Howatch is one, of course, but Godwin has surely scored some kind of first in making her heroine here a female Anglican minister. Margaret Bonner, whom Godwin admirers will remember as the subject of Father Melancholy's Daughter, is now the pastor at All Saints High Balsam, a parish set in a conservative little resort community high in the Smokies in Western North Carolina. She married the much older Adrian Bonner, who is struggling as headmaster of a local boys' school, and who is apparently still daunted by thoughts of Margaret's youthful fling with Ben MacGruder, now a noted pop singer. Into their lives, as they approach the millennium (the book is set a year from now, at Advent 1999) comes Tony, a strange old man with dyed hair who represents himself as a monk on the move; Grace Munger, a local woman with a grim past who has set up as an evangelical revivalist and seeks Margaret's participation in an end-time parade to bring salvation and healing to the mountains; and Chase Zorn, a bright but self-destructive orphaned youngster who is a student at Adrian's school. Among a welter of conflicting emotions and loyalties, Margaret somehow keeps her sanity, even her serenity, intact, and learns to put together a long and loving life with a daughter born out of the sorrows of that strange and dramatic time. The carefully researched details of a woman minister's daily rituals are fascinating, and Godwin offers her usual insights into her characters' shifting feelings, compounded of psychological astuteness and keen empathy. Gracefully written and embracing a worldly but genuine sense of goodness and human possibility, this kind of book is rare these days.
Library Journal
There's not much hope and the poor are getting poorer in the small town of High Balsam — which makes things hard for Margaret Bonner, pastor of the local Episcopal church. But then three strangers come to town, and her life really gets complicated.
Brigitte Weeks
Gail Godwin is a talented and courageous novelist...and a terrific storyteller. She creates for her readers, whatever their points of reference, a tangible world full of people we could meet or already have met....It is an entertaining and fast moving story...it expands the world.
Washington Post Book World
Boston Sunday Globe
Lovely and lasting...An old-fashioned story with a cast of intriguing...characters.
Steven W. Lawler
Godwin has once again given us a world in which things and people matter deeply. At the end of the day, this is what sets a great novel apart from mere entertainment.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Francine Prose
...[T]houghtful, deliberately paced and meticulous in its attentions to the subtleties of character...
People Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
In a satisfying sequel to Father Melancholy's Daughter), Godwin contemplates family ties, the prickly bonds of marriage, and the varieties of religious faith.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Ballantine Reader's Circle Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


It all began on a Friday evening. I mean "began" in the old storytelling sense, for oftener than not what we call beginnings are fulfillments of things set in motion a long time ago.

It was the Friday evening before the first Sunday in Advent, that season of spiritual expectation in the Church calendar: a clear, frosty evening at the end of November, with a bite to it. Winter in the Great Smokies would shortly be upon us, the winter that would see us into the next century and the new millennium. Other things were on their way to us as well, things we neither anticipated nor, in some cases, could even imagine. This is the story of how we met them and were changed by them.

My husband and I had eaten an early supper together, some of his chili, perfected during his extended bachelor years, and then he was off to the school again. I was rinsing our dishes under the tap, brooding—but with a fair amount of equanimity by this time—over the fact that he had neglected to kiss me again. I heard his car start, but it didn't go anywhere, and then there he was, back in the kitchen, his face already ruddy from the cold.

"Stubborn girl. You were supposed to lock the door behind me."

"What did you forget?" To kiss you, I was hoping he would say.

"Time for my wool cap. 'While the earth remaineth, summer and winter shall not cease,' and the bald head shall cry anew for its covering." Adrian liked to improvise on scripture. "Now where did I—"

"All your hats and gloves are in the box in the hall closet. Labeled 'Winter.'"

"The things you do for me, Margaret."

"I did it for myself, too. My winter things are in there along with yours."

During the minute or so that it took him to dash down the hall, locate his old Navy watch cap, and return to the kitchen in the act of pulling it snugly down to his eyebrows, I was granted a little blip of respite. Things had not been well between us since last summer, but during this momentary spot of light, I entered a different kind of time. Significant memories pressed close with the intensity felt when living them, and recalled to me how much I had wanted this life with this man and how equally much I had feared it would never come to pass. And yet here we were in it, "for better for worse." In the wedding service the four words exist as a unit, unseparated by even so much as a comma. Had I expected to live only in the better side of the phrase? Into this wider perspective hope was allowed room, and something of it must have communicated to Adrian, because he now remembered what he had forgotten his first time out the door.

"Well," he said, touching his lips to mine and actually looking at me as if I was there with him, "hold the fort, as your father used to say. And please lock up this time."

"My father and I never locked the rectory back in Romulus. I don't think the vestry ever bothered to give him a key."

"Those were more trusting times, before people started blasting each other to smithereens over parking places. And your father's rectory wasn't so near the bus station that any fruitcake on foot could be at your door in five minutes."

"No, but once in Romulus I came back from church and found a woman upstairs in my bedroom closet, going through the pockets of my clothes."

"You never told me this." He looked intrigued. His hands stayed on my shoulders. "What was she doing in your closet?"

"She said she was looking for cigarette butts."

"Was she a parishioner?"

"No, she'd just showed up at church. But she never came back after that."

"Well, I don't wonder." His eyes rolled upward and I knew he was picturing the scene. Then he laughed, a typical Adrian-laugh. The surprised laugh of a reserved man ambushed by the gift of ludicrousness. Making me wish I had ten more such anecdotes stashed away to keep him standing there holding onto me and laughing. But then it was over and I could tell from his face he was already out at the school. "I'm not going to carry over my flannel pajamas yet," he said, releasing me. "That would be capitulating to winter too soon."

He'd taken to spending most weekends out at Fair Haven School, where he was chaplain—and now acting headmaster, since the sudden death of Dr. Sandlin late last spring. All faculty who lived off campus took turns spending nights at the school, along with the resident staff. A founding principle of Dr. Sandlin's had been the importance of consistent family routines for these seventy-five disaffected teenagers whose parents preferred to maintain them long distance via their checkbooks. Some of the students came from backgrounds so unfamilial that even meals in common were foreign to them. "You have to force them to do things with others," Adrian was always saying.

As I passed the hall closet on the way to my study, to finish my sermon for Gus and Charles's wedding tomorrow, I sniffed the lingering cedar odor from the briefly opened box in which our all-cotton clerical shirts from Wippell's in England crossed the Atlantic together, and where our winter things now snuggled side by side even if we no longer did, and I was mystified anew by this whole thing we humans do when we take it into our heads to love one particular person.

It would be the first marriage for Gus (Augusta) Eubanks, a local architect, and the second for Charles Tye, the medical director of our local health clinic, whose wife had left him and their daughter three years before. We'd had the wedding rehearsal this afternoon, precocious twelve-year-old Jennifer Tye strutting about like a proud mother hen. Jennifer was convinced that her efforts had brought about this match, and to a large extent she was right. Gus and Charles were both extremely busy people who tended to neglect their personal lives, she had explained to me, and so after she determined Gus would be ideal for her father—and herself—she had plotted to make sure they got together. Like many children of alcoholics (in Charles's case, a recovering one), Jennifer felt she was responsible for everybody in the world. After the rehearsal, I discovered that she had gone around to all the pews and inserted white ribbons with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 into the appropriate pages of the hymnals so tomorrow's wedding guests would be sure to find their places quickly for the chosen hymns.

Through the closed windows of my study I could hear the muted scrape-scrape of fallen leaves on the weathered bricks of the garth that connected the rectory to the church. Dry, tentative agitations similar in tone to those of my well-bred parishioners, shuffling and murmuring among themselves at coffee hour over the latest assault (usually mine) on All Saints High Balsam's time-honored customs, or deploring the fast-crumbling status of the world as they'd always known it. I scribbled a reminder to myself to get someone to clean our gutters before the snow came. Otherwise Adrian would be up there on the tall ladder, and he already had more jobs than he could handle.

What form, if any, was Gus's prenuptial nervousness taking? Was it different when you were forty-two? Six years ago I had been twenty-seven and terrified my marriage still might not come to pass because I desired it so much.

On the eve of my wedding, I sat in my seminary room, almost afraid to move, and said a certain collect for evening prayer over and over until I knew it by heart.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

What People are Saying About This

Fannie Flagg
I'm a huge fan of Gail Godwin. Her writing is flawless. I loved this book and its wonderful characters.
— Author of Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!
Connie May Fowler
n this exquisite novel Gail Godwin gracefully explores that many-facted mystery we call faith. Evensong illuminates what is most basic and good about humanity: our instinct to love, heal, and forgive.
— Author of Before Women Had Wings
Jacquelyn Mitchard
Evensong is a book so subtly bold and poignant it will bring readers unawares to their knees....Gail Godwin goes from strength to strength, her prose wise and solid as the Book of Common Prayer.
— Author of The Deep End of the Ocean

Meet the Author

Gail Godwin was born in Alabama, grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and received her doctorate in English from the University of Iowa. She has taught at Vassar College and Columbia University and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 1981 Award in Literature from the National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Her short stories, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. Three of her critically acclaimed novels, The Odd Woman, Violet Clay, and A Mother and Two Daughters, were nominated for the National Book Award. Her other highly praised books include The Good Husband, Glass People, The Perfectionists, Dream Children, and Mr. Bedford and the Muses.

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Evensong 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Relationships, religion and redemption are the 3 R's in National Book Award nominee Gail Godwin's Evensong, an eloquently rendered, albeit sometimes decelerated, story of a woman's path to spiritual identity. In this, her tenth novel, Ms. Godwin reintroduces us to Margaret, the daughter in Father Melancholy's Daughter (1991). We are reminded that Margaret was deserted at the age of six by her mother, and raised by her father, a too needy Episcopalian rector who suffered from bouts of depression and 'lived by the grace of daily obligation.' Later, either responding to a call or displaying filial approbation, Margaret chooses to follow in her father's professional footsteps. When we meet her again she is attending General Theological Seminary, and has set her sights on Rev. Adrian Bonner, a balding, fortyish, self-denigrating cleric. Margaret is convinced that having each other will make more of them both. Dropped off at a Catholic orphanage by his parents, Adrian also bears scars of rejection. As a 10-year-old, he sought approval by imitating the institution's director - the young Adrian fashioned a rudimentary flagellum with 'strips of rubber from a piece of inner tube,' and punished himself daily. An unlikely candidate for conjugal bliss, a facsimile of Margaret's father? Indeed. It puzzles why Margaret, as astute as she is in the study of human nature, did not see this herself. Only later does she unearth 'a flinty bedrock of self-hatred' beneath Adrian's chronic despair. Becoming temporarily impotent, he makes 'bitter jokes about December graybeards who took to themselves May brides.' As the world stands ready for Y2K, the Bonners move to High Balsam, a small North Carolina community. Margaret is to be rector of All Saints High Balsam, and Adrian on the staff of a therapeutic high school. A paradigm American community in economic straits, High Balsam is ripe for an onslaught by Grace Munger, a rabid and rotund evangelist who receives direct instructions from the Lord. Describing herself as a 'freelance apostle,' Grace says God has mandated a parade - a Millennium Birthday March for Jesus. When Margaret declines Grace's invitation to join her march, the evangelist digs in her booted heels and campaigns to change the young rector's mind. Two surprising visitors add to the turmoil in Margaret's life. First, there is the appearance of Tony, a 'scraggy old customer' who claims to be a monk from the Abbey of the Transfiguration. Margaret feels obligated to invite the 80-year-old to spend the night with them, a stay that becomes days and then weeks. Tony, it turns out, is as adroit at duplicity as he is at rolling his own cigarettes. By making himself useful, he slowly insinuates himself into the couple's lives. A second unexpected houseguest is Chase Zorn, a rebellious teenager who has been expelled from Adrian's school, a 'volatile boy, seething with intelligence and mistrust, testing to the limit anyone who dared love him.' The addition of these two disparate personalities to a rather benign household proves to be an incendiary mix, both literally and figuratively, when Tony confesses that he is Adrian's father and a forgotten iron sets fire to Margaret's church. One of the novel's most poignant scenes is found in Margaret's conversation with a young girl who disdains the Bible as a book that tells one how to be good. Margaret explains, 'It's a record of people keeping track of their relationship with God over a long period of time.... People go through some pretty awful stages as they fumble toward what they're meant to be.' Moving toward what one is meant to be is at the heart of Ms. Godwin's well articulated tale. Whether defiantly questioning or unquestioningly faithful, Margaret's journey is much like everyman's journey. Evensong may help us along the way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent, thought-provoking book. Besides an interesting story, many important issues are raised. These are the kinds of things that like to churn around in your head even after you've finished the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first, I couldn't get into this long meandering narrative, but once I was hooked in Margaret's world, I couldn't put it down.