The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow (by Joyce Magnin, Abingdon Press 2009) is an honest book. An engaging book, with well-crafted prose and intriguing characters. A fun book and sometimes a troubling book. A book with more questions than answers.
In other words, I loved it.
I can’t say I altogether agree with its premise.
Agnes Sparrow is a whale of a woman, too fat to leave her house. She also has a very dark secret buried deep in her past. But she seems to have a mission for prayer. Lots of her prayers have been answered miraculously for all kinds of people in her little town of Bright’s Pond. Now the town wants to honor her by adding her name to their Welcome sign.
All the things that happen as a result of this decision got through my suspension-of-disbelief filter just fine. It’s the basic idea that God might use a woman with zero self-control and a huge unconfessed sin on her conscience to work miracles that makes me squirm a little.
You see, I come from a tradition that values holiness. We Orthodox Christians expect miracles to come through people who have grown unusually close to God through lives of voluntary asceticism or involuntary suffering bravely borne, through the zealous pursuit of righteousness in word, deed, and thought. People in whom the presence of the Holy Spirit often literally glows.
Not people who bury the physical evidence of their crimes in the basement and pop M&M’s all day to bury their feelings of guilt.
On the other hand, I’d be the first to admit that God is not limited by anything, not even His own habitual patterns, and it’s not impossible that He might choose to work through such a sinner as Agnes Sparrow. Stranger things have happened.
And if you can get past that, this is really a delightful book. The townspeople of Bright’s Pond are vividly and affectionately drawn at the same time they’re mildly satirized. The idioms of mountain-village Pennsylvania enliven the writing. And we can’t help but root for the narrator, Agnes’s long-suffering sister Griselda, as she attempts to find a way between caring for her sister and making a life for herself.
The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow is the first of a series of books about Bright’s Pond, and I look forward to reading more.