This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette.
I used to walk past a blue convent on my way to the Nature’s on Division, hoping to glimpse an urban sister on the lawn. Nuns are so rare in the modern American everyday that sighting them is thrilling and improbable, like finding a bald eagle. A black flap of the habit isn’t unlike the rush of wings; its possessor is unknowable, a container for the feelings of the viewer.
Claire Luchette’s winning novel, Agatha of Little Neon
, brings the reader beyond voyeurism into the mind of 29-year-old Agatha, who, with her three sisters, finds herself working in Little Neon, a Mountain Dew-colored halfway house in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. The women are ill-prepared for the work, having previously run a diocese daycare, and do a mostly terrible job of caring for the released prisoners and recovering addicts under their supervision. The novel’s substantial, subversive humor comes from the sisters’ foibles, as they try to use toddler parenting techniques on wayward adult residents, institute a mandatory bible study that comes with free mustard, cook truly awful meals, and insist on the power of faith to mend all wounds.
It’s this last tendency that cuts through the surface-level tweeness of Agatha of Little Neon
, exposing a secondary focus on how the sisters’ stubborn blindness to the Church’s crimes, and their forced naïveté about the efficacy of faith in helping people recover from the consequences of poverty, cause real harm to the vulnerable individuals in their care. Agatha alone seems to struggle with disappointment and anger, and her gradual shift away from obedience toward observation and response forms the emotional core of the novel. Luchette’s quiet exploration of what it means to fracture your life twice — first, in surrendering the self to God, and second, in reclaiming it — provides a powerful balance to the novel’s lighter notes; and if the ending feels inevitable, it also feels well-earned.
A rare, delightful story that marries entertainment with profundity, Agatha of Little Neon
is a sparkling debut from a writer to watch.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month