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FPP#10: Guilt That Clangs Like Church Bells

One thing about pulling first paragraphs out of context and living with them for several days: they can take on a life of their own.

From a novel to be published next month by an imprint of HarperCollins:

My name is Frances Catherine, a.k.a. Frankka — Saint Cat onstage. With names like these, I guess it goes without saying that I'm Catholic. Or I was Catholic. Raised Catholic, as they say. Lapsed Catholic or recovering Catholic, like it's some kind of drug you have to quit cold turkey. Twelve steps and maybe you'll be free of the guilt that clangs like church bells. Newborn original sin washed away by a priest and I'm the only one who's mucked it up since then: Sinner, impure, forgive me, it's all my fault.

Imagine driving past a pharmacy, the paragraph bobbing around in your head, and how the paragraph, interacting with the world around it, changes both...

Religion isn't passed down from the mother. Instead, a holy man (or holy woman) splashes each newborn with water then waits to see how its skin reacts — like those pH strips in high school lab, or an over-the-counter pregnancy test. Green means Catholic. Jews turn blue. Agnostics show no color change at all. And so on. (Let's assume skin stops reacting with water soon after you're born.)

The important part: Your faith has nothing to do with genes, and it can't be changed by ritual or persuasion.

Parents would love and accept their children, regardless of religious affiliation. How could they not, right? "Blood is thicker than water," they would say. Who knows where those first-hand, cross-cultural bridges would lead.

On the other hand, kids would rebel because that's what kids do. And, inevitably, a few zealots would decide that one god (their own) was superior to the rest; therefore the world owed them power and dominion. Eventually, people would mess it up, is what I'm saying. The model might prove to be a total disaster, but never mind the repercussions because it's just a silly conceit born of reading too many Vonnegut novels at an impressionable age.

Just consider the agony Frankka would be spared: no more clanging guilt. (About Catholicism, at least.) Because if Frankka was born with any kind of blank slate, other people filled the important, open spaces for her before she was old enough to do it, herself. Adapting her given name — once for friends and again for audiences — is likely just the start of a lifelong reclamation project.

Would you keep reading?

[Turn back to last week's First Paragraph Preview, or skip straight to its author and title.]

Update: Find the author and title.

÷ ÷ ÷

Dave interviews authors for Powell's. He created our Out of the Book film series. He likes cats and dogs.

Books mentioned in this post

Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State

5 Responses to "FPP#10: Guilt That Clangs Like Church Bells"

    pop!goes March 28th, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    But where would fiction be without all the guilt?! (Especially the Catholic kind!) It's an intriguing paragraph. I want to know more about Frankka, particularly what she does on stage and what kind of stages she's talking about.

    paulli March 29th, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    that's actually what i like best about the paragraph. what's up with the stage name? saint cat. i love it (would make a good name for a band) but it doesn't tell me anything about what she does.

    Dave (Post Author) March 29th, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    It only occured to me now that "Saint Cat" is what people sometimes call Saint Catherine Street in Montreal, for short.

    e March 31st, 2006 at 8:38 am

    I have to say - I wouldn't read past it. That paragraph is busy enough to scare me away.

    Quin April 3rd, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Yeah that would be enough to pull me in. Im a big church basher myself so i like it when people start to recover from religon.

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