Lying Awake

Lying Awake

4.6 16
by Mark Salzman, Stephanie Shieldhouse
     
 

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Mark Salzman's Lying Awake is a finely wrought gem that plumbs the depths of one woman's soul, and in so doing raises salient questions about the power-and price-of faith.

Sister John's cloistered life of peace and prayer has been electrified by ever more frequent visions of God's radiance, leading her toward a deep religious ecstasy. Her life andSee more details below

Overview

Mark Salzman's Lying Awake is a finely wrought gem that plumbs the depths of one woman's soul, and in so doing raises salient questions about the power-and price-of faith.

Sister John's cloistered life of peace and prayer has been electrified by ever more frequent visions of God's radiance, leading her toward a deep religious ecstasy. Her life and writings have become examples of devotion. Yet her visions are accompanied by shattering headaches that compel Sister John to seek medical help. When her doctor tells her an illness may be responsible for her gift, Sister John faces a wrenching choice: to risk her intimate glimpses of the divine in favor of a cure, or to continue her visions with the knowledge that they might be false-and might even cost her her life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Mysticism meets modern medicine in this intriguing r cit of a nun's dark night of the soul. It's 1997, and Sister John of the Cross, a Carmelite nun in a monastery just outside Los Angeles, seeks treatment for epilepsy, although the remedy threatens to diminish her formidable spiritual powers. The Carmelites place heavy emphasis on prayer, and over the years this discipline has helped Sister John to develop miraculous visionary gifts. When severe headaches precipitate a collapse that requires medical intervention, Sister John finds the process starkly juxtaposed against her centuries-old traditions: she discovers it's almost impossible to discuss infused contemplation with a neurologist. Is her continual prayer "hyperreligiosity"?; her choice to remain celibate "hyposexuality"?; her will to control her body "anorexia"? Although she accepts a CT scan and its diagnosis, Sister John determines that faith offers a more substantial, meaningful reality. Written with simple elegance, alternating narrative and prayer, the tale is engaging yet maintains a curious emotional elusiveness. A drama centering on the realm of mysticism is bound to be difficult to describe and, like Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy, this story doesn't aim to render the nun's spiritual life and psyche in accessible terms for lay readers. What Salzman conveys with perfect clarity is that momentary, extraordinary mental state in which physical pain becomes pure, lucid grace poised between corporeal reality and eternity, a state that Sister John desires to prolong for a lifetime. Salzman's talent for calling forth the details and essence of unfamiliar realms is well known: his memoir, Iron & Silk, was acclaimed for its deft rendering of life in China, no less authentic for being written by an outsider. With this third novel (after The Soloist), the author continues to surprise with his unorthodox choices and consistently challenging themes, story lines and characters. Eight illus. by Stephanie Shieldhouse. (Sept.) FYI: The Soloist was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Normally, the contemplative Sisters of the Carmelite monastery of St. Joseph outside Los Angeles would have little contact with the everyday world. However, Sister John of the Cross, a longtime Carmelite, has brought some outside attention (and needed income) to the small religious community, including an invitation to deliver a poem at the Vatican, because of her inspirational writings based on the intense spiritual visions she experiences regularly. But when equally intense headaches send her to the hospital, Sister John is shocked to learn that her visions may originate from a life-threatening physical condition. Worse, if she agrees to the recommended surgery, the operation is likely to eliminate forever what she had accepted as a special grace from God. To make her decision, Sister John must reexamine her path to the cloistered life and test the strength of her most cherished beliefs. In this spare, affecting novel, Salzman (Lost in Place, The Soloist) creates a compelling portrait of faith and the interior life. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Starr E. Smith, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Lib., VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Hodgman
In an era of trendy spirituality, Salzman has rendered the real thing. His book should be short-listed for all the literary prizes, but it has the kind of grace that doesn't demand them.
Entertainment Weekly
Daniel Mendelsohn
Readers interested in lyricism, the bone-beautiful kind that arises from amll thing intensely considered, would do well to pick up Mark Salzman's Lying Awake...the concreteness and economy of Salzman's writing, his eye and ear for tiny, resonant details eventually yield their riches in a clear-eyed vision—not, perhaps, of what God means, but certainly of what it means to be a human being...
New York Magazine
Louis Bayard
A singularly rich and abundant work, and one that plays by its own rules. Unironic and un-self-conscious, Lying Awake is, like the life it portrays, a quiet, stubborn movement against the postmodern grain . . .
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A deliberate and somewhat plodding account of life inside a Carmelite convent, told with a surfeit of awe by Salzman (The Soloist, 1994; the nonfiction Lost in Place, 1995), who seems to have read too much Rumer Godden for his own good.

From the Publisher
"A lean, seemingly effortless tour de force...a perfect little novel."
The New Yorker

"Spare, luminous...Salzman makes this cloistered society not only believable, but also compelling."
San Francisco Chronicle

"A singularly rich and abundant work.... [Salzman has an] ability to convey spiritual states with a lambent clarity."
The New York Times Book Review

"A satisfying and evocative questioning of faith and art."
The Oregonian

"Mark Salzman is...a poet, capturing in the pages of Lying Awake, his shining novel about devotion and doubt, a mysticism that reaches back in time to an older tradition, yet dwells easily in the present."
Los Angeles Times

"A gentle story.... Graceful, lucid and enjoyable."
Newsday

"Elegant.... Salzman's depiction of Sister John's conflict, convent life and this society of devoted women is a marvelous accomplishment."
The Seattle Times

"Lying Awake showcases an almost ethereal talent, one that can handle complex ideas with a touch lighter than air."
New York Post

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375406324
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/2000
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 7.79(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

July 25
Saint James, Apostle
Sister John of the Cross pushed her blanket aside, dropped to her knees on the floor of her cell, and offered the day to God.

Every moment a beginning, every moment an end.
The silence of the monastery coaxed her out of herself, calling her to search for something unfelt, unknown, and unimagined. Her spirit responded to this call with an algorithm of longing. Every moment of being contained an indivisible — and invisible — denominator.
She lit a vigil candle and faced the plain wooden cross on the wall. It had no corpus because, in spirit, she belonged there, taking Christ's place and helping relieve his burden.

Suffering borne by two is nearly joy.
Fighting the stiffness in her limbs, she lifted her brown scapular, symbol of the yoke of Christ, and began the clothing prayer:

Clothe me, O Lord, with the armor of salvation.
She let the robe's two panels drop from her shoulders to the hemline, back and front, then stepped into the rough sandals that identified her as a member of the Order of Discalced — shoeless — Carmelites, founded by Saint Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century.

Purify my mind and heart. Empty me of my own will, that I may be filled with Yours.
A linen wimple, with the black veil of Profession sewn to its crown, left only the oval of her face exposed. Mirrors were not permitted in the cloister, but after twenty-eight years of carrying out this ritual every morning, she could see with her fingers as she adjusted the layers of fabric to a pleasing symmetry.

Let these clothes remind me of my consecration to this life of enclosure, silence, and solitude.
She sat at her desk to read through the poems she had written the night before — keeping her up until past midnight — and made a few changes. Then she made her bed and carried her washbasin out to the dormitory bathroom. She walked quietly so as not to wake her Sisters, who would not stir for at least another hour. The night light at the end of the hall was shaded with a transparency of a rose window; its reflection on the polished wood floor fanned out like a peacock's tail.
As Sister John emptied the basin into the sink, taking care to avoid splashing, the motion of the water as it spiraled toward the drain triggered a spell of vertigo. It was a welcome sensation; she experienced it as a rising from within, as if her spirit could no longer be contained by her body.

Wherever You lead me, I will follow.
Instead of going to the choir to wait for the others, she returned to her cell, knelt down on the floor again, and unfocused her eyes.

Blessed is that servant whom the master finds awake when he comes.
Pure awareness stripped her of everything. She became an ember carried upward by the heat of an invisible flame. Higher and higher she rose, away from all she knew. Powerless to save herself, she drifted up toward infinity until the vacuum sucked the feeble light out of her.
? ? ?
A darkness so pure it glistened, then out of that darkness,
nova.
More luminous than any sun, transcending visibility, the flare consumed everything, it lit up all of existence. In this radiance she could see forever, and everywhere she looked, she saw God's love. As soon as she could move again, she opened her notebook and began writing.




Copyright 2001 by Mark Salzman

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