If you’ve never read a book by Caren J. Werlinger before, here’s what you need to know: she writes beautifully, she doesn’t write romance, her books aren’t always easy to read, they’ll touch your heart by way of your guts and it will be worth it. It might be painful, but it will be exquisite pain.
In This Small Spot was released in 2013, but I was working too much at the time to read anything that wasn’t for work, and I’m still catching up on all the books I missed over the years. With An Unlit Candle coming out at the end of the month, it was time for this one. No way was I postponing a new Werlinger book.
The first time she felt the call, Michele chose university instead. Years later, her life in tatters, she finds her way to St. Bridget’s Abbey, and a new purpose to life. Monastic life isn’t for everyone, as she quickly learns, but, maybe to her surprise, it seems to be for her. If she can reconcile her faith and her queerness, if she can resist incursions from her past, if she can move on…
As I knew it would be, this book was very hard for me to read. At one point, I wondered if I would still be reading if it had been written by someone else. I have no answer. What made me wonder is what do I, a secular Jew from France, care about a Catholic nun in New York? At first sight, the only thing we have in common is our infinite love for a woman.
And it’s not the religion arc that made reading painful. That part was fascinating, more so than I would have thought. I came to care about the whole community of nuns, the organisation, the daily prayers, the small and sometimes insignificant events, the way Michele fits in. Despite her former extremely active and busy life, the contemplative lifestyle suits her and I enjoyed witnessing her finding her place, finding new joy. It’s not a smooth path, making it all the more gratifying.
The part I struggled with was the grief, the loss. Before entering St. Bridget’s, Mickey lived for years with the love of her life, Alice. And Alice died. That’s something my wife and I have been talking about a lot recently. I have anxiety attacks. For all my optimism and positive view of life, my brain, given the slightest trigger, goes straight to the darkest scenarios. A couple of days before I began reading In This Small Spot, I went through ten terribly long, absolutely terrifying minutes during which I was convinced my wife had died (she’s fine, she wasn’t even that late). So yeah, that’s my worst nightmare. And I do not want to not read about a character losing their partner (this word is so bland, so far from what I mean), but these stories are always going to hurt.
The thing with Caren J. Werlinger is that she can write anything, the most difficult story, the deepest, and it will be beautiful. I can’t resist beautiful writing. It’s not just the writing, it’s how she tells the story, how compelling the atmosphere is, how human and relatable the characters are.
As I often write, this book isn’t perfect, but I really really don’t care. I love Mickey, with her at once sweet and dry sense of humour, and most of the nuns (who’d have thought?), especially Sisters Linus and Anselma. I love Alice and Alice’s love for Mickey. I love the journey, all the journeys.