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Book Corner March 2011

The Next Queen of Heaven

by Gregory Maguire
Harper Publishers, 2009. Pp. 374. Paperback.


Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl            

This work was published in 2009 and should be on the “must read’ list of anyone today who has yet to read this novel or anything by this imaginative and deft author.  Maguire’s work is a humorous, compassionate and tough book about human frailty and community, set at the end of the 1990s.  How soon we forget – but this was the time of the Y2K scare, the AIDS crisis (with many of the afflicted still in the closet) and general fears and curiosity about the end of a millennium.

Two communities in the town of Thebes – Roman Catholic and Pentecostal – meet at the intersections of their proximate geographical locations as well as within the communal relationships of their parishioners.  This work is about ecumenism where it can bless and really challenge folks in a small town.  One senses that the action has shifted into high gear when a Pentecostal divorcee, with three teen-agers, is accidentally hit on the head by a falling statue of the Virgin Mary when she is opening the Catholic parish’s refrigerator. Her linguistic adventures after this accident significantly tear up her household and her children’s lives.

The older people in the community – priest, pastor, parents and retired nuns – have their own issues and are sometimes challenge severely by the younger people.  These include the rebellious Tabitha, whose mouth and actions tend to the bizarre and the nasty, and the young and gay Roman Catholic parish’s choir director and his buddies.

Maguire’s descriptions of people in love, falling out of love and torn apart by love are superlative!  It has been awhile since I have encountered an author who depicts humanity with such compassion and insight.

Life in the two churches represented in this book are so accurately depicted that one wonders if Maguire is a member of one’s own denomination (if not parish).  This is his description of the priest’s preaching style and the author’s own combination of reality and dense humor.

Jeremy suspected that parishioners of a certain age who had been trained to actually listen to sermons couldn’t fathom Father Mike’s streamy bio-faith.  By the time he finished, their minds were filled with stars and grains of sand and even the tiniest sparrow and the inside and the outside of the curve of eternity.  It was probably the closest many of them came to mystical thought or a good marijuana buzz. (60)

This is a wonderful book.  I yearned to have a whole series of books from this author on the town of Thebes and its peculiar (re ordinary) people.  If you have read nothing of Maguire, read this and whatever else he has written.  This is a rare talent and joy to encounter.