Friday, August 10, 2012

A Question of Faith

I've read my share of novels about beautiful, talented young people graduating from college and making their way in the world, tackling problems in their professional and personal lives. Johnathan Dee's “The Privileges” and “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides come to mind. And that's the direction in which Christopher Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder seemed to be heading.

In alternating chapters Beha follows the lives of Charlie Blakeman (narrated in the first person) and Sophie Wilder (told in third person), who met as college freshmen in a writing class, and bonded over their shared aspirations to be writers, their shared loss of parents and their shared devotion to the power of fiction.

But Sophie's conversion to Catholicism turns the story into something far more compelling than post-collegiate angst. It tackles questions about the power and the burden of faith, the obligations of children to parents, parents to children, the living to the dying, the believer to the non-believer.

Don't be put off – this is not a book written to defend Catholicism or to condemn it. But religion does offer Beha's characters a means to delve into questions about their deepest values, and also about the importance of writing to explain the complex motives that govern their lives.

What happened to Sophie Wilder? When I read the last page I realized what a complicated question that was. This is a story that is still spinning around in my head – I think I will have Charlie and Sophie with me for a long time.

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