Can You See Anything Now? opens with a suicide attempt. Margie an artist living in the town of Trinity, decides to drown herself in the lake. She fails. The lake isn’t as deep as she remembers.
[Spoiler Alert: Though I’ll try to be opaque about details] Margie is an artist who paints nudes. She struggles with depression and is diagnosed with MS. Her therapist husband Nick, is better at diagnosing Margie than listening to her with an ear for understanding. Margie’s neighbor Etta is also an artist. She doesn’t paint nudes, she paints tomatoes. She’s an evangelical who has read the Five Love Languages and Christian sex books. Margie teaches Etta how to paint nudes.
Margie’s daughter Noel, is in an on-and-off again relationship with Owen and is college roommates with Pixie, a recovering addict and a cutter. When Pixie comes home with Noel for Thanksgiving break, she falls into Trinity’s river and loses consciousness. Her bald dad, Pete comes to town to be at her side. He stays for months. Long after almost everyone gives up hope for Pixie, he organizes a prayer vigil, declaring that “Pixie will rise on July 3.” Things don’t quite work out the way Pete expects.
James’s characters swear, cut themselves, and attempt suicide. While there is a redemptive arc to the story, the details aren’t all tied-up in a pretty bow. This is less a story about a person (i.e. Margie) but a tale of the way lives overlap, are interwoven and influence one another. The persons of Trinity co-inhere. I am not sure who the protagonist of this novel is, unless it is someone who looks like Devandra Banhart (you won’t understand this comment, until you read the book).
With the release of Katherine James’s debut novel, Paraclete Press re-inaugurates their fiction line-up. This is the first novel on their newly christened Paraclete Fiction label. My standing critique of Christian fiction is its preachiness. It tells instead of shows. Also, Christian fiction often presents a sanitized version of reality, certain topics off limits. If James’s new novel is any indication, Paraclete Press has bucked this trend. This is novel that is both gritty and compelling, without being preachy and dogmatic. Faith haunts the novel without assaulting the reader with a peculiar worldview. Each of the characters, even the most overtly religious character, Etta, are on a journey.
If you are looking for straightforward tale, or some mindless fiction to pass the time, this probably isn’t the book you want. With the shifting focus on the various characters, this book is somewhat demanding, forcing readers to follow along and keep track of the various threads. But this is an excellent debut novel for James and an engaging read. I give this book four and half stars. ★★★★½
Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.