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Book Sense

 

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Rococo

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by Adriana Trigiani

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Random House, Inc.; 2005; 272 pages

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Reviewed by Katy Johnstone

Rococo, an infrequently encountered word describing a very ornate, 18th-century French art style, has just received a major makeover --- and all thanks to Virginia native Adriana Trigiani. Best known for her Big Stone Gap trilogy, Trigiani chose Rococo as the title of her latest novel, thus familiarizing millions of readers with the term. This time, however, the setting is a far cry from the heart of the Virginia mountains; it takes place in the fictional coastal borough of Our Lady of Fatima, New Jersey.

Narrator Bartolomeo, known simply as B to his family, friends, and clients, is a 40-year-old Italian-American bachelor with two passions in life: his work as an interior decorator and the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally, when it comes time for his place of worship to undergo its first major renovation and redecoration in 100 years, he sees only one man for the job: himself. The novel follows B through the entire process of the renovation, beginning with convincing the uptight Father Porporino that he truly has what it takes to conquer this massive task, to the first wedding and christening that take place in the newly updated church.

Where Trigiani truly shines in Rococo is through her characters. As she demonstrated in her previous novels, she has a knack for weaving a mosaic of brilliant and memorable small-town individuals and capturing a completely believable family dynamic. Particularly likeable characters include: B’s older sister, Toot (as in a tootsie roll, not the sound of a horn), a loving but unhappy woman still feeling the effects of her 13-year-old divorce; Aurelia Mandelbaum, a wealthy and powerful woman determined to see B wed Capri, her daughter and his lifelong platonic friend; Rufus McSherry, a handsome Irish artist who knocks women off their feet with his good looks while assisting B in the renovation; and Christina, B’s lovely but recently widowed cousin.

Despite all of the novel's wonderful attributes, I have one minor criticism: that while the characters are quite strong, the plot is, at times, somewhat predictable, and occasionally resorts to unlikely coincidences to tie the story together.

Nevertheless, from the first page on, readers of Rococo will know that they are in for a treat with Adriana Trigiani’s special gift of storytelling in this near-perfect beach read.

 

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Lost in Wonder, Love, & Praise

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Abingdon Press; 2001; 176 pages

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Enter Every Trembling Heart

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Abingdon Press; 2003; 180 pages

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Winter Soulstice: Celebrating the Spirituality of the Wisdom Years

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The Crossroad Publishing Co.;

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2005; 221 pages

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All three books by John Killinger

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Reviewed by Richard Johnstone

 

Prayer is a very personal act, whether done alone, or as part of a large body of worshippers. One person’s inspiration can be another’s irritation. In addition, public prayers, like speeches, are made and meant to inspire through the ear, not the eye. So it’s always a gamble to publish in book form prayers that must then grab the spirit through cold typography, rather than a warm human voice.

Stepping into this dicey territory is a master wordsmith and distinguished theologian, John Killinger, who lives with his wife in electric cooperative territory on the outskirts of Warrenton near the Blue Ridge Mountains. In both Lost in Wonder and Enter Every Trembling Heart, Dr. Killinger manages to bridge that gap between sound and sight, as well as the one that sometimes exists between people of different faiths, or between the literature of the sacred and the secular.

In short, Dr. Killinger’s words inspire, uplift and illuminate the spiritual realm in a magical way that should appeal to people of all faiths, or even none at all. He draws the more than 300 prayers featured in each book from his tenure as a minister at three very different congregations, one in Los Angeles, one on Mackinac Island, Michigan, as well as the First Presbyterian Church in our very own Lynchburg.

If you even occasionally must lead a group in prayer, if you desire a dose of eloquent spirituality at bedtime or any time, or you just appreciate the power and the glory of the English language exercised by a master, you’ll no doubt enjoy either or both of these volumes. Enter Every Trembling Heart has the advantage of also containing an epilogue in the form of a psalm that beautifully and powerfully addresses the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In one of the calls to worship published in Enter Every, Dr. Killinger writes, “The chimes call us to another dimension of our own reality, from the world of work and leisure, travel and responsibility, holiday and home, to a world of spirit, of prayer and the inner self, of transcendence and holiness. It is not always easy to enter this new dimension, or to remain there with concentration when we have accomplished the entrance. But it is always worth it, for it returns us to the former dimension with new hope and vision and centeredness.” Entering another dimension, and returning refreshed and centered, is likely how you’ll feel after reading the powerful poetry of this “master pastor.”

In his latest book, Winter Soulstice, Dr. Killinger writes an intensely autobiographical account of his life, from childhood tragedies to his experience leading churches, to his beliefs and ideas, to his favorite authors, and to how in his older age he has come to celebrate “the spirituality of the wisdom years.” His vivid yet approachable writing style propels the reader through the book, which is a compelling account of a minister who has seemingly worked hard, as a former pastor of mine would say, to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”

His insights are fascinating, his duels with theological rivals riveting, and his accounts of his spiritual journey are surely of interest to those who have gone down similar roads. But be aware that this is the account of a minister who labors in the tradition of liberal Protestantism, both politically and socially. With bracing intensity and honesty, he shares his views, both of the spiritual world and also of this world, including a frank chapter on human sexuality that may offend some readers.

This is the first-person story of a churchman reveling in, and reflecting upon, a life of service and sacrifice, in the autumn of his life. At the book’s end, he writes, “I am totally convinced of the ultimate spirituality of life itself — that we live and move and have our being in God, even when we are unaware that we’re doing it. And part of the spirituality of our elder years has to do with an increasing recognition of this. I am sure this is why I am so happy to be in the latter period of my life, when I can see everything coming together so beautifully.”

For theological liberals, or anyone who loves life stories painted in rich hues, the book will be like a fireside chat with an old friend. And for theological conservatives, the book will be a powerful, provocative and at times perplexing look at another piece of the richly diverse tapestry of the American religious experience.

 

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