Reviewed by Joy
Emma might never have come back to West Virginia if she hadnít inherited the diaries of the Praying Woman. Being the person you really are can be scary. The summer when Emma was ten years old, the person she is was first helped to surface by her Aunt Mimi and Uncle Joe, and their close neighbor Jean Plymal, the Praying Woman.
Now 35 years old, Emma has just rejected her career as a radio news reporter. No more the strident, intrusive, drama-spinning achiever her bosses want her to be, Emma has to rediscover who she really is. Learning to know the Praying Woman through her diaries, Emma finds out more about herself than she is sure she can face.
In Appalachia, a Praying Woman is a person the community believes has a special power to be heard by God. She acts as crisis counselor and spiritual intermediary. Ten year old Emma used to watch from her bedroom as Jean Plymalís porch light burned a welcome to anyone throughout the night. She could sense the love between Jean and Preacher Sam, her lifelong lover, on his nightly visits to Jeanís house. Jean made Emma welcome, too, seeing more possibilities in her than anyone else had. By the end of her summer stay, Emma felt washed clean of her old life. Twenty-five years later, reading Jeanís diaries, she learns to know Jean and sees herself through Jeanís eyes Ė and what is she going to do about it?
PRAYING WOMAN was written with such piercing love that I had tears in my eyes several times in the first few pages. By page twenty-five, it had been packed with as much emotion as most books contain from beginning to end Ė true emotion, the kind that strikes deep.
Iím working from an advance reading copy, so I hope no one will change these lines:
ďI looked out the window now, holding my breath. Jeanís porch light glowed in the holler. Someone had turned it on this night before her funeral.
ďA pile of years of being someone I had made up dropped at my feet, rags not worth half as much as this light.Ē
PRAYING WOMAN is beautifully written, the poetry arrowing straight to the heart of true-life joys and dilemmas. Author Marsha Carter describes her novel as the result of years of loving care, with the help of a community of friends. Never think of this as committee work, though; what comes through is the love and the community.
Iíve seen PRAYING WOMAN referred to as a romance. In my opinion, Emmaís romance is the least successful part of the book, because it was written with the least conviction. Anyone interested in the health of the spirit, their own or the spirit in general, will find something they need here. PRAYING WOMAN is destined for an EPPIE nomination. I heartily support it.
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