Did you ever anticipate something so much that you feared it would disappoint you?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 Reads Fairacre or Jan Karons 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 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 Im 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 dont know quite how she did it, but Magnin drew me into the world of Brights Pondand 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 Magnins 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. Magnins 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 Brights Pond soon, but dont carry your expectations with you. This book, like the towns celebrated Full Moon Caf, carries a full menu of original, delightful treats. Take the time to readand to savoreach one.
The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin is a masterful novel about the power of unconfessed sin. Griselda has devoted her life to taking care of her obese sister, Agnes. Agnes has devoted her life to taking care of the town of Bright's Pond. Her prayers have become so famous for bringing miracles in the small town that its residents are preparing to erect a sign outside city limits advertising it as the "Home of Agnes Sparrow." But Agnes has never wanted publicity, and no matter how hard she tries, they refuse to see the answered prayers as the work of God, but instead of as the acts of Agnes. When a new man moves to town looking for a miracle from Agnes, the town will be forever changed. Magnin has created in Bright's Pond a vibrant and fascinating small town. She never reverts to stereotypes, although there is plenty of quirkiness. Griselda's character is really the heart of the novel, and the character feels frustration, betrayal, outrage, and hope right along with her due to Magnin's wonderful portrayal. The story takes a distinctly unexpected turn giving it added depth and heart. Magnin is definitely a writer I have put on my must read list.
This is quite possibly one of the odder books I have reviewed this year. Right off the bat, in the first chapter I am caught off guard. The central character in the book is Agnes Sparrow (as the title indicates) and we meet her immediately through the eyes of her sister, Griselda, the narrator. We see how she is the primary caregiver for Agnes who is 700 lbs and can't get around on her own. The whole town reveres Agnes because she spends all day everyday in front of her living room window with her notebook praying for the people of the town. Miracles have happened and people attribute it to Agnes. Of course she hates that attention and tries to relay that it is God answering the prayers, not anything she is doing. The town characters are so well done - what a kooky cast to support Griselda and Agnes! Cora, Zeb and Vidalia are their closest friends while Eugene is a royal pain in the butt and Stu and Boris are Agnes' biggest fans and are the ones trying to get the sign up and the statue erected. Hezekiah comes into the picture after he hears about Agnes' miracle working powers in another town and he comes to find Agnes and get his miracle. Hezekiah stumbles onto one of Agnes' secrets all while hiding some secrets of his own. This is where the book got off track for me. It's like all of a sudden it goes from being a cozy little character book to trying to be all things to all people... mystery, murder, suspense... and it lost its charm. The funny thing is that when the book ended I was crying for the characters because they really did click with me... it was just that the story itself never seemed to find its niche. I know from experience though that many people will probably love this book, it just wasn't up my alley.
Having lived in a small town,I appreciated the dynamics of Bright's Ponds cast of characters. Truly resonated, as did the relationship between Griselda and Agnes. I enjoyed Magnin's ability to capture the essence of people and to develop them as both unusual and utterly real. Her voice is fresh, her storytelling captivating.