Elderly Maggie Barnes has died, and her adult son, newly divorced Rowland, decides he will summer in her condo to finish sorting Mom’s papers and journals.
Unfortunately, at the start of A Certain Slant, Rowland holds only a caricature of his mom: “My mother, Maggie Barnes, was a well-behaved middle-class woman who valued good manners, including thank-you notes.” Rowland doesn’t know that he sees her as one-dimensional. But he does.
Nor does the very isolated Rowland know that he can only know his mother whole if he joins other believers “at the table”—as author Dr. Mary VanderGoot explained in an online chat—in “the circle of community.”
A Certain Slant is book two of The Maggie Barnes Trilogy, which begins with Broken Glass (2019), and will end with Phantom Fathers (2022), about threads of shame and hiddenness in the generations.
Like VanderGoot’s first novel, keen psychology drives the characters. So unlike Rowland’s simple assessments, the characters on these pages thrum with dimension and complexity. Even Alethea, his mom’s peer, calls Rowland to more complexity—and love—as they journey through Maggie’s journals together.
In a 2020 email, VanderGoot said this confessional novel is about “the ethics of memory.” A Proust quote appearing in the novel’s early pages explains the ethics of memory: “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
True. And perhaps extremely true when it comes to our family members.
Faith conversations happen in remembered tensions between Rowland and Maggie. Maggie believed; Rowland struggles—he’s a smart English professor after all.
VanderGoot was a Calvin University professor of psychology and a psychotherapist.
A Certain Slant fills a needed niche: mature storylines for mature readers. (Resource Publications/Wipf & Stock)