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Backslide, predicts Kathering Forrest, “will be a classic in our literature.” And when it is, it will be because of the author’s unique perspective on the considerably less unique journey of a rather typical (though lesbian) teenager, Virge.
Appropriately titled Backslide, Stores hits on some of the main themes of contemporary religion: sins, redemption, hypocrisy and salvation. As is often true in the real world, the gay person in Store’s fictitious world who is true to self and others as well as to her faith is nowhere near the hypocritical sinner that his or her heterosexual counterpart is.
What is most important about the book is that Virge doesn’t just move through her life. She learns from everything that happens to and around her. She discovers that while there is much she doesn’t understand about others, she can understand herself and her place in the world.
At 13 she learns a most basic lesson that many never learn and from an unlikely teacher. While going door to door witnessing to her faith, she meets the elderly Miriam Rosenbaum. A Jewish concentration camp survivor may as well be an alien from outer space to Virge, but it is Mrs. Rosenbaum who tells Virge that “life is about losing…a little here, a little there. It is what we keep, what grows from what is gone that matters.”
When the story begins, the adult Virge is the guest on a talk show speaking about her new book, Sinner. She tells the show host that the point of view in her book shifts from character to character because “Each character believes in his or her own reality as the reality, the truth. Christians believe that there is only one truth, one God, one way to God, but I’m trying to show that even for these individual Christians, truth is individual…It’s subjective and fragmented. They profess to believe in this really limited objective truth, but in their individual points of view, we see something else.”
And this is the point of not only the novel within the novel, but the novel itself. Oppressed by the Christian mores of a dogmatic mother and the local pastor as well as her young Christian classmates, Virge sees the real lives of these people for what they are: epics and dramas filled with backsliding, sinning, hypocrisy and the inability to forgive or accept others.
Life has shown Virge, “Sin” isn’t what religion teaches us. “A sinner,” she says, “is a hater. Sinners shut off love, shut off other people, maybe even shut off parts of themselves.” She continues, “When we let the rules of religion–any religion–tell us to hate–then we become sinners.” And logically, love is how they are redeemed.
The young Virge announces that she will one day write a book called “Sinner, but not about being a sinner according to God and the Baptists and all, but about breaking the really important rule—loving each other and all the parts inside our selves. About listening for each other’s voices inside your own head. About sliding back into fear and hate instead of being brave and quiet enough to trust what’s inside.” Backslide is that book–the book Virge would have written!
by Teresa Stores
Paperback, 320 pp., $14.95