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Lying Awake (Vintage Contemporaries)by Mark Salzman
Sister John of the Cross is a nun with special gifts; she is filled with poetry, with love for God and the Innocent Spouse, and with pain (real pain in the form of blinding headaches that give her no rest, but during which she has visions). Something like a hammer in her skull reveals to her that humans are "God dreaming" and other flights of breathless grace, but when the Sister discovers that there may be a more earthly component to all of this, she is forced to make a choice that is nothing less than a test of her faith. In Lying Awake, Mark Salzman has written a book so lovely that it seems like something that is itself on the verge of escape.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Lying Awake showcases an almost ethereal talent, one that can handle complex ideas with a touch lighter than air." New York Post
"Elegant....Salzman's depiction of Sister John's conflict, convent life, and this society of devoted women is a marvelous accomplishment." The Seattle Times
"A gentle story....Graceful, lucid, and enjoyable." Newsday
"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 satisfying and evocative questioning of faith and art." The Oregonian
"A deliberate and somewhat plodding account of life inside a Carmelite convent, told with a surfeit of awe by Salzman, who seems to have read too much Rumer Godden for his own good." Kirkus Reviews
"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....With this third novel (after The Soloist), the author continues to surprise with his unorthodox choices and consistently challenging themes, story lines, and characters." Publishers Weekly
"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
"Readers interested in lyricism, the bone-beautiful kind that arises from a small thing intensely considered, would do well to pick up Mark Salzman's Lying Awake....[T]he 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." Daniel Mendelsohn, New York Magazine
"A lean, seemingly effortless tour de force...a perfect little novel." The New Yorker
About the Author
Mark Salzman is the author of Iron & Silk, Lost in Place, and the previous novels The Laughing Sutra and The Soloist. He lives in Los Angeles.
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