Lying Awake, by Mark Salzman
I rarely read such books, and when I do it’s principally because someone has thrust them on me. Not always, though. I agreed to give this one a read because of its seeming parallel to a book by one of my favorite writers, Ron Hansen: Mariette in Ecstasy. But the dissimilarities are more populous. In Hansen’s, the girl falls into trances, has stigmata bleeding-but there are hints of abuse. In the end, Hansen leaves it to the reader to decide whether the girl’s experiences are real. As if subjective experience can be judged to be real.
In Lying Awake, this book’s girl clearly has a Church no-no: epilepsy, and in its throes she also has ecstatic experiences. Her choice – and Salzman’s – is much more mundane. She must decide to have surgery and live a “normal” cloistered life, or to retain her epilepsy and its consequent ecstasy. I won’t spoil the choice she makes, but its essence is more mundaneness.
What’s common to both books is an interesting observation; that even within cloistered walls spiritual experiences are looked on with utmost suspicion. As a result the successful life behind these walls in one of cognitive dissonance: living a life devoted to religious devotion and spiritual pursuit while all but denying such devotion as anything but failure, of pursuing ecstasy that is always looked on with suspicion.
Too, Salzman’s writing is a bit of a mess. His attempts at writerly eloquence is pedestrian, his bouncing around in time as he spins a potentially interesting story is without apparent design. His spiritual device is clumsy and its eventual end is disappointing and hardly thoughtful.
My rating: 11 of 20 stars