Evensong (1999)

by Gail Godwin

Evensong is a sequel to Father Melancholy’s Daughter, with Margaret Gower now grown up, married, and following in her father’s footsteps as an Episcopal priest. Now the Rev. Margaret Bonner, she is the 33-year-old rector of All Saints, High Balsam, in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina. Her much-older husband, Adrian, is also a priest; he is the chaplain and acting headmaster of a boarding school for trouble youth. The time is the end of 1999 before the Millennium.

Adrian is a depressive, as Margaret’s father was, and the marriage is shaky as the book opens. Three unusual characters infiltrate the Bonners' lives and help bring them back together: a pushy freelance evangelist organizing a Millennium March for Jesus; an 80-year-old itinerant monk who arrives on the Bonners’ doorstep seeking the hospitality prescribed by the Benedictine monastic tradition; and an unruly teenager from Adrian’s school whom Adrian brings home in a last-ditch effort to reform him.

Evensong’s Christianity is one of action more than of philosophical discussion. Margaret is a conscientious woman doing her best in her job — ministering to the needs of her parish and people. She is good but not saintly, devout but not zealous. Such unsentimental goodness is a welcome slant in a modern novel.

Near the end readers discover that Margaret is pregnant, and we find out in the epilogue that she wrote the story as a gift to the daughter she was carrying at the time. Perhaps Godwin was holding open the door to another sequel.


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