May having each other make more of them both.

I hardly ever flat-out recommend books. There are many reasons for this. One is that I don’t like to share things that are close to my heart, because if you don’t like them, it’s like you don’t like me. Another is that I’m more than a little afraid of being Book Ass-Person (please see Adam’s post on Bible Ass-Man if that makes no sense to you). Book Ass-Person does not care whether her book relates to your overall topic, she just has to make sure that she mentions a book, even if it really has nothing to do with what you’ve just said. Book Ass-Person is annoying, especially if you’re not a big reader. You might be better served by a conversation, a song, a listening ear. Book Ass-Person does not listen. Book Ass-Person has the answer to all your problems, right there in paperback.

I’m going to make an exception, though, just this once, to recommend a novel I recently reread and enjoyed very much. If you enjoy the same books that I do, if you like interesting characters and a thoughtful story, then I would like to suggest Evensong by Gail Godwin. (It’s on my top ten list, but only because I forgot Gaudy Night. I’d make Evensong #11.)

When Mike was still working at his old store, one day he went by the library and picked up a book for me. “Philip Yancey recommended this author,” he told me, “and I know you like Philip Yancey. This is her latest book, Evensong.” I was impressed with his thoughtfulness, and dug in as soon as I could.

Evensong is from the perspective of a female Episcopalian minister, Margaret, and is set in the mountains of North Carolina. This, however, is no Mitford clone – I like the Mitford books, but their charm is in their simplicity and optimism. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call Evensong optimistic, because Margaret’s faith does buoy her along. However, it’s also true that the main character is wrestling with whether she can stay in her marriage to Adrian. More correctly, she wants to stay in her marriage, she’s resisted a few opportunities to leave, but she doesn’t know how to stay if things aren’t going to get any better. In Mitford, things are a little easier, and I read those books to meet a specific need. Evensong wasn’t a quick read for me, and it has characters and stories that you have to dig into a little more. I think my favorite thing about reading the book this time was seeing how determined she was to make it work. One of the themes of their marriage is that they both have complicated stories or, in visual terms, murals, and yet, there they are, together in the midst of them. I felt that way just last weekend, when Mike and I were cleaning out some old papers and boxes, and there were all kinds of things I’d forgotten, all sorts of new stories to tell. We aren’t people without any history, and we bring that history, good and bad, to our relationship, hoping to make new stories together. A lot of this book is Margaret and Adrian still learning, even after several years of marriage, how to be together in spite of their respective pasts.

The other big marriage-related theme in this book comes from Margaret and Adrian’s engagement, when he, as a much older man, claims that he doesn’t want to limit her future, and she says, “Why shouldn’t our having each other make more of us both?” Margaret uses that phrase in a wedding that she performs during the book, and she stays with Adrian because she believes that, yes, their work can make more of them, but that they can’t give up on their marriage because they aren’t yet done making more of each other. I loved that phrase, because I love the idea of marriage making more of me instead of holding me back. I think that women, especially, can start to believe that they could do or be more if they didn’t have a family and a husband to take care of, when caring for people (both inside and outside of marriage) is actually how you learn to be a more complete person, to sacrifice, to put others first, to be sensitive, to be compassionate, to speak the truth in love.

One of the small things I noticed this time was how much Margaret and Adrian work as a team, even when they’re not getting along like they would hope. Something would happen, and Margaret would think, “I need to remember to tell Adrian.” Or she’d read something and want to share it with him. As I was reading Evensong, I was reminded of how much I do that same thing, and I thought, “Marriage is like a constant conversation.”

It sounds like the book is woefully depressing, but it’s really not. Many of the parishoners add humor, Margaret and Adrian do enjoy being together even though it’s a difficult time for them, and a mysterious monk and an outcast teenage boy who end up staying at the rectory also make things interesting.

I don’t know why, exactly, this book resonates with me so deeply, but I enjoyed the character of Margaret so much that I read the first book about her: Father Melancholy’s Daughter. I enjoyed it quite a lot, too. On the front of my paperback copy of Evensong, it says, “The New York Times Bestseller,” but I haven’t heard people talk much about Gail Godwin. I have only read those two of her books, but I’m going to make my way through several of her others in the next few months. And I would like to give Evensong my wholehearted recommendation.

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