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by Mary Morris
Picador USA, 2000
Review by Su Terry on Apr 13th 2002

Acts of GodThis is curious read about a woman who reluctantly returns to her hometown for the first time in 30 years for her high school reunion. Old friendships, old infatuations, and old rivalries resurface rekindling faded dreams and threatening to destroy her present.

Acts of God is primarily set in the small town of Winonah, about an hour from Chicago. Tess Winterstone, who has not stepped foot in Winonah since she left for college, has returned for her 30th high school reunion. This unwanted gift from her grown children ("Go, and enjoy yourself.") proves to be a major turning point and opportunity for growth for Tess. At the reunion, she encounters Nick and Patrick, old flames whose fire for Tess still burns. She also encounters her two childhood friends, Vicky and Margaret, Nick's current wife. Through a series of flashbacks, Tess reviews her memories of her childhood and teen years in Winonah. Dominating her memories is her strange relationship with Margaret. Margaret whose hot-tempered, impulsiveness, and sexy exotic beauty captivated the men that populated Tess' high school years, has hardened into an overweight and overly made-up spiteful shrew. Tess, on the other hand, has softened her legalistic, straight-laced ways and she has firmed up her adolescent plain-jane plumpness into the sexy womanliness of a midlife natural beauty. Soon the best and worst of her past relationships begin to intrude into her comfortable Californian lifestyle filled with radical children, a media mogul ex-husband, and dreams of running her own cliffside B&B. As Tess' home and personal life teeter on the brink of cliffside disaster, she rediscovers why she abandoned her past in Winonah to begin a new life far from her past. Will Tess let her life and her home slide away in the wake of the oncoming storm? Or will she resolve strength her home and to risk life built of a rocky future?

The strength of Act of God is based on the author's ability to evoke a sense of place. Whether it is natural wild of the pacific coastline or the complacent domesticity of mid-western farmlands, this author makes it a very real sensory experience. This novel is filled not only with the sights, but also the sounds, smells, and tactile feelings of life as they are experienced by Tess. Her settings are as bold and demanding as her characters. While her characters are solidly drawn, the real stars of this novel are her descriptive settings. This may in part be due to the authors previous experience writing her travel memoirs. It is not that her characters are weak, but only that her settings steal the show.

Act of God is a novel about coming to terms with one's past. Tess is many ways has moved on with her life, yet in others way, her movement is merely an act of running away and not completely resolving past issues. When confronted face to face with her past, her neat arranged present begins to crumple. Other characters, Margaret and Nick, are mire in the past and have not even tried to escape or resolve it. When Tess arrives, their neatly configured bi-level world explodes apart. Two characters, Patrick and Vicky, have been able to come to terms with the past, and while they still reside in their hometown, they have truly moved on with their lives. Of all the characters, their stroll down memory land although filled with sighs of "if only"s demand relationships based in the present and not on what once was. This novel is an excellent example of why even if one could go home again, why it might not be a good idea to even try.

Mary Morris is a best-selling author. She is the author of four previous novels (Crossroads (1983), A Mother's Love (1993), House Arrest (1996), and The Night Sky (1997), three travel memoirs (Wall to Wall: From Beijing to Berlin by Rail (1992), Angels and Aliens: A Journey West (1999), Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Women Traveling Alone (1999)) and three short story collections (The Bus of Dreams (1986), Vanishing Animals and Other Stories (1991), and The Lifeguard (1997)). Her fifth and latest novel is Acts of God (2000). She teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and daughter.

Act of God is an interesting blend of psychological suspense, mystery, and quirky realism. The reader is invited into a very real world that slowly begins to resemble a psychological Twilight Zone. A satisfying walk down memory lane filled with many blind curves.

© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.