Occasions of Sin: A Memoir

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"In 1958, when Sandra Scofield was fifteen, she came home to stay in west Texas after years in Catholic boarding schools. She believed her presence would inspire her invalid mother to live. What she found - a fractured family, a distracted, bedridden mother - nudged her into the tumult of late adolescence and the awakening of her sexuality." "The bond between Sandra and her beautiful mother, Edith, was built out of their intertwined aspirations for holiness, achievement, and love. Hardly more than a girl herself, Edith taught her daughter to love ...
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2004 Hard cover New. No dust jacket. H/C-No d/j-Book is New! Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 256 p. Audience: General/trade.

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"In 1958, when Sandra Scofield was fifteen, she came home to stay in west Texas after years in Catholic boarding schools. She believed her presence would inspire her invalid mother to live. What she found - a fractured family, a distracted, bedridden mother - nudged her into the tumult of late adolescence and the awakening of her sexuality." "The bond between Sandra and her beautiful mother, Edith, was built out of their intertwined aspirations for holiness, achievement, and love. Hardly more than a girl herself, Edith taught her daughter to love books, art, music, and then God. Her conversion to Catholicism opened a door to education, and more, to a world where spirituality and sensuality swirled together." "Edith campaigned for a gubernatorial candidate, joined a little theater, and dazzled men, including priests. In the background Sandra devoted herself to pleasing her mother, the nuns, and Jesus, in that order." In the months before Edith's death, Sandra's efforts to please her mother were complicated by her mother's love for her doctor, and then cut short by the death no one was really expecting. She was thrown too soon into adulthood and the shaping of her identity as a woman.
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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Occasions of Sin evokes the complicated and all-consuming nature of Scofield's love for her mother. Scofield doesn't cut herself any slack; she admits that she didn't grasp the gravity of her mother's protracted illness until long after Edith's death. This uncompromising book does not move toward any tidy moments of acceptance; there is no sunset-cued epiphany in which Scofield realizes that everything will be all right. Instead, she devotes the book's final pages to exploring a personal tragedy she experienced while in college. Though owing a debt to Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Occasions of Sin succeeds on its own unflinching terms. — Amy Kroin
Publishers Weekly
Scofield's account of her childhood and teenage years will ring familiar with many readers. Although the book is framed by a specific time (the 1950s and '60s) and place (West Texas), its themes of wanting to be a perfect daughter, of trying to grasp the concepts of religion and God as a child, of fitting in among peers who seem far more mature are universal. Scofield's mother, Edith, lived a difficult life. A striking beauty, she had political ambitions yet was held back by a disapproving mother, two understandably needy young daughters and an often-absent husband. Edith, formerly Methodist, converted to Roman Catholicism when Scofield was a child, and brought Scofield and her sister up in the church. Much of Scofield's memoir concerns her years at Catholic boarding school, where she tried to find a balance between having an intimate relationship with God and fearing the iron-fisted nuns who monitored her every movement and prohibited contact with Scofield's adored and non-Catholic grandmother. Unlike many memoirists who write of growing up Catholic, novelist Scofield (Opal on Dry Ground; Plain Seeing; etc.) does not take a lighthearted look at her tumultuous childhood; rather, she marks her memories with an intense, reverent seriousness. When Scofield returned home at age 15 to live with Edith, the mother she'd idolized practically since birth, she was devastated to find her showing signs of grave illness, which turned out to be chronic nephritis, a kidney disease (she died a year later). Poignant and clearly cathartic, this is a tender, melancholic coming-of-age story. Agent, Emma Sweeney. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Novelist Scofield, who spent most of her upbringing in 1950s Texas, was the older of two girls. Her father worked hard but sporadically, requiring the family to move in with relatives when times got tough. Ill with kidney disease and depression, her mother, Edith, turned to the Catholic religion when introduced to God through a hospital chaplain. From then on, Edith made every effort to raise her girls in the church. She sent Sandra to boarding school, where the nuns encouraged her artistic and intellectual growth. There, Sandra embraced Catholicism until she reached puberty and returned home at age 15 to care for her dying mother. After her mother's death, her father remarried and moved, leaving her alone to make sense of her mother's bizarre life and manage on her own as a teenager. Now approaching 60, Scofield has written a literary memoir from the perspective of maturity and distance, accepting her mother's frailties as well as her own. The author of seven novels and a National Book Award finalist (Opal on Dry Ground), she is a skilled stylist. While this memoir doesn't break new ground, it does explore the mother/daughter relationship with insight and sensitivity. Recommended for large public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/03.]-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Growing up with a mother whose big dreams were thwarted by a teenage pregnancy, inadequate education, and ill health. Novelist Scofield (Opal on Dry Ground, 1994, etc.) also vividly evokes parochial and public school life in Texas during the 1950s. Her mother, who grew up poor and frail in West Texas, worked while she could on political campaigns, became a devout Catholic, and briefly took in a foster child. Her husband left her, had little to do with their children, and eventually remarried and disappeared altogether. From early childhood, Scofield was determined to achieve what her mother had been denied and to make all those sacrifices worthwhile. Young Sandra didn't always understand Mom's actions, like having herself photographed in the nude shortly before she died, but she was the most important figure in the life of her daughter, who treasured their times together talking, reading, and praying. Scofield recalls a childhood during which she was often the caregiver, making meals, taking charge of her younger sister, and nursing their mother. Sent away to Catholic boarding school, Sandra was homesick and lonely. In her junior year she came back to Odessa, Texas, to attend public school, where she found new challenges: boys, cliques, and a less nurturing atmosphere. Her greatest struggle, however, came in trying to keep her mother alive after a diagnosis of Bright's disease, which was not then treatable. Ignorant of what the diagnosis meant, Scofield was not prepared for her mother's long, painful illness at home and eventual death from kidney failure at age 33. Until the final, fatal day, Scofield was sure she could "rally the heavenly troops and keep her going." Now middle-aged, theauthor still grieves for a woman who made mistakes, but was easy to love. A tender but clear-eyed tribute. Agent: Emma Sweeney/Harold Ober Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393057355
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/19/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Scofield is the author of seven novels, including Beyond Deserving, a National Book Award finalist. She lives in southern Oregon.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2004

    writing fiction and memoir

    I was first introduced to Scofield's bright and tight prose last summer, and read two of her novels before coming to her memoir. For writers and readers interested in the cross-fertilization between fiction and reality, reading her latest novel, Plain Seeing, and then reading Occasions of Sin provides a great object lesson in the entwining of the two. Events that might appear resolved in the novel are unraveled in the memoir, only to be reknit in a different pattern. And what permeates most strongly from Occasions of Sin is the mature and forgiving voice of the narrator/author, who cuts a slice of life, observes it with compassion, humor, and a healthy distance, and shares it with the world. It is at once a testimony and a quiet, unsentimental celebration of a particular family, whose members endure through poverty and illness, adapt, and move on. I am now reading Leila Ahmed's A Border Passage, which is also a memoir about a young woman coming to age in a family life and culture governed by religion. While Scofield's story takes place mostly in Texas, and is structured around her mother's adoption of Catholicism, Ahmed's privileged childhood was spent in Cairo and Alexandria, and was governed by Islam. Still, I found some interesting and powerful threads running through the two works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2004

    What Sins? Who the Sinners?

    OCCASIONS OF SIN is not simply the story of growing up in the middle of America in the middle of the 20th Century. Seeking the source of her own identity, the author describes her innocent presence in the life of her mother who sought redemption for herself and, in her political activity, redemption for her country.As I read it, Scofield's memoir is more than a recollection of her growing up and of her mother's. It is a view of the time and place through the eyes of innocents, of innocence. We recall that sexuality is a natural instinct and that poverty is caused by other powers, not by the powerless victims. Condemnation imposed on the innocent victims brings into question what are the real sins and who are the real sinners.

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