Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette

Agatha of Little Neon (2021) is a debut novel by Claire Luchette about the personal growth of a Catholic sister named Agatha. It’s a quiet story full of succinct and meaningful observations about friendship, finding purpose in society, the Catholic Church, and the patriarchy.

In her childhood, Agatha wanted to be unnoticed. She had trouble talking and coming up with something to say. Agatha’s mother died when she was just eleven, and after being marked by grief, there was nowhere she could disappear except church. The constancy of the Church played a role in her choice to serve God. She later reflects, “When people saw our habits, they ceased to see our faces.”

As Agatha tells her story, she reveals other feelings towards her role as a woman and her role in the Church. Early in the story, Agatha and her three fellow sisters experience a car break down while running errands. After calling the priest for help, they manage to fix the car with their nylon stockings. When the priest calls back full of concern, instead of telling him they fixed the car themselves, they undo their repairs and allow him to help. Agatha reflects, “But many times, the greatest mercy you can grant a man is the chance to believe himself the hero. This was obedience, we thought.”

When their diocese goes broke, Agatha and the three sisters must leave their home in Lackawanna, NY where they ran a daycare. They are sent together to Woonsocket, Rhode Island to run a half-way house called Little Neon. The house is named “Little Neon” because it is painted the color of Mountain Dew. The residents are recovering addicts, each with their own story, and Agatha and the other sisters are ill-trained to minister and help them.

Agatha is very close to her three fellow Catholic sisters, but she sometimes wonders at their motivations and whether her thoughts and opinions match theirs. As the story goes on, her divergent opinions grow more pronounced as her personal growth takes her in different directions. In Woonsocket, Agatha is asked to teach geometry at the Catholic girl’s school, which separates her from the other sisters. In spite of having a sense of community, Agatha is deeply lonely. She watches the girls at her school “with something like envy. They always had something to tell each other.” One day, she returns from work, and the sisters have cut one another’s hair, which was something that Agatha normally did for them all. Agatha feels “useless” and “pathetic,” and hates feeling this way. At her new job, Agatha becomes friends with a fellow teacher named Nadia. She never tells her fellow sisters about Nadia, saying, “I never mentioned her—not because she didn’t matter, but because she did.”

After a kind resident at Little Neon named Tim Gary dies by suicide, the bishop’s eulogy is cruel rather than sympathetic. Agatha is incredulous, thinking, “I didn’t know what to do with all my grief. It was mutating into fresh rage.” This event makes Agatha realizes that she belongs elsewhere, and she leaves the Church, but in leaving her sisters, she “left with nothing.” As Agatha begins her new life, the reader is left wondering what the future holds for her.

Purchase and read Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette:

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette

The Sweet Indifference of the World by Peter Stamm

The Sweet Indifference of the World by Peter Stamm

The Sweet Indifference of the World
(2018) is a short novel by Peter Stamm. The novel was translated from German to English by Michael Hofmann. The story is a beautiful and curious tale about love, aging, and memory. The book cover is as disorienting as the story itself.

In the first chapter, an old man waits for a woman named Magdalena to visit him on a cold, winter day. She is young and doesn’t age, and she seems to be in the man’s imagination. After she arrives, Magdalena calls to the man to go walking with her outside. She’s much faster than him. The man has forgotten his cane and worries that he will slip and fall when he nears a bridge. His other fear is that he will lose sight of Magdalena.

In the next chapter, Christoph leaves an obscure message for Magdalena, asking her to meet him at a cemetery in Stockholm, Sweden, “Please come to SkogskyrkogĂ„rden tomorrow at two. I have a story I want to tell you.” A young woman arrives to meet Christoph. She goes by Lena rather than her full name. Lena has never met Christoph before, and he is older than her, but she is curious to hear this stranger’s story.

Christoph tells Lena that he was once a writer. He was writing a novel that was a love story and a portrait of his girlfriend. While writing the novel, he and his girlfriend broke up, so he wrote instead about the impossibility of love. As Christoph tells Lena his story about Magdalena, Lena recognizes that they share the same name. Beyond that, both Magdalena and Lena are actresses, and Lena is dating a man named Chris who is a writer like Christoph.

The Sweet Indifference of the World by Peter Stamm, Chapter 9

These two pairs of people are leading uncannily similar lives though years apart. Christoph continues his story telling Lena that he previously met his doppelgÀnger Chris and told him about his life with Magdalena and their breakup. Though Chris has actively made different choices than Christoph, it seems that Lena is still dissatisfied with their relationship, and she plans to break up with Chris. However, when Lena looks at Christoph, she tells him that she would choose to stay with Chris if she knew for sure that he would turn out like his double.

The story is compelling, but the novel trails off with a somewhat dissatisfying ending. Is the younger pair destined to the same outcome as their older counterparts? It would be nice to know their fates and whether Christoph’s interventions in Chris and Lena’s lives changed their story. I also half-expected that Lena would break up with Chris for Christoph, and I was somewhat disappointed that this did not occur.

As the novel concludes, Christoph remembers that as a twenty-year-old man, he found an old man who had collapsed near a bridge. As Christoph helped the old man walk home, the old man said something about a woman he went out walking with. I realized that this is the same old man who was waiting for Magdalena in the opening chapter. It left me wondering how many times Christoph has crossed paths with versions of himself during his life and how these moments were sometimes not recognized.

Another aspect of the novel that I contemplated was the names of the characters. Magdalena’s name suggests Mary Magdalene from the Bible, and Christoph is named after Jesus Christ. Lena and Christoph meet in a cemetery, which made me think of how Mary Magdalene discovered that Jesus’s tomb was empty. Perhaps this Christian symbolism is meant to make us consider how stories continue and resurrect themselves without finite endings. Indeed, Christoph tells Lena, “I can’t tell you the end of the story...the only stories that have endings are the ones in books. But I can tell you what happened next.”

Purchase and read books by Peter Stamm:

The Sweet Indifference of the World by Peter Stamm It's Getting Dark: Stories by Peter Stamm Unformed Landscape: A Novel by Peter Stamm Seven Years: A Novel by Peter Stamm

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Other

A poem about grief.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Child Inside

Poem about fireworks and childhood by Ingrid Lobo written on a photograph of a sunset.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Anemone

Pen and Ink Drawing of an Anemone by Ingrid Lobo

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Daffodil

Pen and Ink Drawing of a Daffodil by Ingrid Lobo