"Can I Get an Amen?" by Sarah Healy (2012)

HealyCanGetAmenI’m not sure what to make of this book.  It’s a novel, not a biography.  Still, it seems to want to be realistic, about real people in real situations.  But I know so little about the sort of people involved — Christians, mostly rather wealthy suburban families — that I can’t honestly say whether they are realistic or not.  Frankly, I hope not.

The narrator is Ellen Carlisle, raised a Christian and having some trouble with it.  Or rather with her mother’s version of it: mention Jesus every few minutes, talk about prayer and being born again, maybe even speaking in tongues.  But she’s not much more comfortable with her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s version, which is a bland, mostly cultural Catholicism that does not prevent him from getting divorced.

Ellen has a lot of modern cliches about her: her brother is gay, her sister is angry and rebellious, but it may take awhile to find out why (having a mother like hers would be enough explanation, if you ask me: my mother was born again too).  Her father is a successful businessman, but we learn very little else about him until very late in the story, when the hinted collapse of his finances becomes manifest.

So I guess I was expecting a rather anti-Christian story, and that’s not what this pretends to be.  The author suggests that she’s writing about religion, but not trying to preach.  Indeed, she ends up with the “why bother” branch of liberal Christianity that seems pretty hard to distinguish from my own ethical humanism.  I recall my late husband’s explanation for our nice-guy building manager who wore a Jesus tee shirt: Christianity gave him an excuse to be nice.  Apparently otherwise being nice is not very masculine.  Or something.

This is one of those books everyone has to evaluate for themselves.  It is sufficiently entertaining to get out of the library or to buy at a used book sale (my copy will be at the Ethical Society’s book sale this summer), but my three-star rating might more accurately be 2.5.

Statements in this review do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.