A friend of mine recently gave me a personally autographed copy of the debut novel Prayers and Lies by Sherri Wood Emmons. My friend is a friend of Sherri’s, and Sherri included encouragement to me in the note with her autograph that the dream is possible! I was so incredibly touched by this gift and the encouragement it brought with it (not to mention the fact that a book is always a marvelous gift to receive!). It may be one of the sweetest gifts I’ve received in a while.
However, I have to admit that I didn’t really expect all that much from the book; it didn’t sound like my type of subject. I threw it in my backpack at the last minute for my recent trip to NYC because I figured that way I could at least tell my friend that I had read it.
Boy, was I ever wrong! I devoured a good portion of this book on the plane and finished it off in my hotel room that evening before dinner. I am still catching myself thinking of the characters days later.
This story is narrated by Bethany, the youngest of four girls in an Indianapolis family who travels to West Virginia every summer to spend time with their extended family. In particular, the difficult life of one of her cousins, Reana Mae, is highlighted in the telling of the tale, and it follows the two of them through their teenage years. It’s a story about the ways that family secrets can control events years later; it’s also a story about the ways that family can stick together even when the going gets rough.
In many ways, this is a tragic, challenging story to read. It’s not always easy to watch some of the things that happen to characters in this story. However, there is also a fierce beauty to the way that they survive what is allotted to them and the ways that love is shown even in the harshest of times.
It’s hard to believe that this is a first novel. The characterization is some of the best I’ve read in a long while. The narrator’s voice rings true throughout the book even as Bethany ages from a child to a teenager. The setting is described in ways that make you feel like you are there. The way that religion and prayer are subtly and realistically woven into the course of the story is a rare thing to find; its presence feels completely natural with no hint of preaching or forcing a point.
Once I finished reading it, I had the additional delight of learning from my friend where a few of the story ideas had come from. (In fact, a couple of them had come directly from my friend’s life!) There was something so reassuring and encouraging in hearing the “true” story behind a scene that appeared in the book to see how lived experience can inform a fictional event without being reproduced exactly. I so often struggle with how to use my life history in ways that can spark fictional ideas while still remaining fiction; I’m not interested in writing my autobiography!
I won’t spoil the story by giving anything away here about the plot, but I very highly recommend it as a marvelous read. Having read it now, I have to say that it turned out to be an even better gift than I ever imagined at first. I am grateful. I hope you’ll treat yourself to the story too. It’s well worth the time!
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.