Lauren B. Davis is one of my favourite authors; she consistently challenges and engages me with her books, and her latest is no exception. Even So explores the “challenge and necessity of loving difficult people,” something we can all relate to. As Lauren says in the introduction to her novel, “it’s relatively easy to love people who’ve been harmed, but what about those who do harm?”
Angela has everything she could possibly want: money, a husband, a son she adores, a beautiful house, an expensive hobby, and a volunteer position at the food pantry. But since her son Connor had gone off to boarding school she’d been feeling restless.
She had wanted all these things she had, had wanted exactly this way of life, and she had it. So now, having accomplished so much, she thought with a snort, what was she to do with this one life–with the years to come?
And for the last few years, she’s felt the increasing distance between herself and her husband, Philip. “In fact, the extent of her distaste for the man to whom she was married came as a bit of a shock. She could just about manage sex after a bottle of burgundy on a Saturday night had put a little Vaseline on the lens, but, in the full-on glare of morning’s bathroom light? No. No, she very much did not want to have sex with Philip… No wife should be thinking this about her husband. But there it was.” So when Carsten showed up at the Pantry one day and showed interest in Angela, she was ready to risk it all. Being with Carsten was “all she could think of, even while the sounds of her husband’s mourning clawed up the stairs and clung to her clothes.”
How reckless she was with all the fragile things she held.
Sister Eileen runs the Pantry and has been watching Angela, noticing her lateness for shifts, her obvious attraction to the new landscaper. When Angela comes to her for guidance, she remains outwardly non-judgemental, but struggles internally with the way she really feels about Angela. How can she convince Angela of God’s love for her when she doubts her own? Especially after the tragedy caused by Angela’s carelessness.
The nun shut her eyes, begging God to tamp down the fires of her disapproval.
As a mother, Angela’s story is painful to contemplate. (“Connor slid into the shade cast by her desire. She could barely make him out in the shadows.”) As I read, I was thanking my lucky stars that Angela’s life was not my own. Of course, we all want to believe we wouldn’t make the same mistakes as others, but how can we be so sure we wouldn’t? And if we were to make similar mistakes/choices, we would want to know someone loved us anyway, wouldn’t we? As Lauren B. Davis says in an interview with All Lit Up, “I believe love should not be dangled as a reward for good behavior. We love, and are loved, because love is a tool of mutual healing.”
Even So is not a fairy tale with the proverbial happy ending; it’s a realistic exploration of what carelessness can look like in the real world. But it’s also a story of forgiveness and redemption against enormous odds.
In a review of Even So at The Miramichi Reader, Ian Colford states that “Readers may not like Angela Morrison, but Lauren Davis ensures they will be captivated by her story.” When is the last time you were captivated by a story with a protagonist who is hard to like?