Cheryl Anne’s writing reminded me at first of a wood carving. There’s that same firm, careful line in her imagery, that prick of wonder that the solid words drop the reader so deeply into the picture, into it and through it, into the story.
The sound and cadence of the words, both in dialog and narrative, are well suited to the characters and their natural setting. That setting is fully, carefully experienced for all five senses, yet lightly, clearly, never bogging down.
But as I fell deeper and deeper into the novel, the wood carving became a tapestry, thick with colorful threads, embroidered with subtle illusion, possessed of layers. A thread would seem to drop, but then it would appear again, like warp and weft, weaving in and out as first one thread and then another was brought to the fore and pressed back again.
At some point in the story, it became difficult to remember that it is fiction. So much of the deepest, hardest parts of life are written into these pages. Our human struggle with the idea of suffering, and the ways we come to terms with it, our temptation to grieve and doubt, our tumultuous journey up and down the waves of self-discovery are all there, and if you have lived through any of them yourself, you will feel a strong sense of recognition. This is the best kind of fiction, the kind that is woven together out of well-learned fact.
The novel has an extra depth for me as it takes place near where I now live. The area’s history, the evolution of these green hills from their farming roots, through industrialization, depression, and, more recently, new growth, has been the backdrop of my life in recent months. This lent an extra fascination and truthfulness to Cheryl Anne’s tale for me, suggesting deep knowledge or excellent research on her part.
As a fellow Orthodox Christian writer, I must add that this book is a major landmark for Orthodox literature as a possible genre. It is exquisitely well written, and at no point does it throw itself into the theological arms of its reader and beg for loyalty. Its power is earned, its artistry is fully executed, and it sets aside the myriad stereotypes about novels written by Christians.
If, as we say, Orthodoxy is not a religion but a way of life, our art should not be amateur or overdrawn. Beauty demands beauty. If we follow the ascetic path in our spiritual life, how much must we also command its endurance in our creative life. It is a great satisfaction to read this book and feel how deeply I may ponder it and find no effort lacking. All of the threads are fully spun, all woven together. It is a well-made whole.
Cover image: Paraclete Press