Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue
Finished: Mar. 31, 2009
First Published: Mar. 3, 2009
Genre: Christian Fiction or Magical Realism (depends on your POV)
Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
She heard the fist tap again, tentative and small.
Comments: Ten years ago Margaret Quinn's 17-year old daughter, Erica, ran away with her boyfriend to join a revolutionary cult. These ten years have been hard on Margaret. She had Erica late in life and is now getting old, old beyond her years actually as she has become a shell of her former self, no longer having the company or sounds of her only child in her house and her husband passed away seven of those years ago. Now she just has her sister, who flies in and visits her every now and then, and the neighbour Mr. Delarosa who does the snow shovelling and other such heavy work for her. Otherwise she is a recluse whose only time out of the house is spent walking into the rural wilderness. She also spends much of her time praying that someday her daughter will return.
Then one day in the middle of a storm, a little girl, Norah, 9 years old, knocks on her door and asks if she can stay. She's an orphan with nowhere to go she says. Margaret plans to contact the authorities the next day but instead by morning they have concocted a story whereby the girl is the daughter of her missing daughter and Margaret's own granddaughter who will be staying with her indefinitely. Margaret, Sean, a boy Norah has befriended, her class, and her teacher all become aware that there is something very special about Norah. Then comes the day that Norah announces that she is an angel.
The book starts in the present of 1985, when Norah arrives at Margaret's doorstep, then goes back to 1975 to Erica's point of view as she runs away, then returns to 1985 and finishes off with a peek into the future of 2005. I absolutely adored this book. Exquisitely beautiful, the writing, the mood, the topic, the interaction of the characters, everything! All the characters in the book are Christian and though never outright stated as such, Catholic. The religious point of view in this book is absolutely beautiful and I wondered if I was reading Christian fiction at first but did realize that it is supposed to be Magical Realism with Christianity as the core of its "mysticism". This scene on page 67 set the tone of the book for me:
"How do you do those tricks?" He edged to the foot of the bed. "Where did you learn that magic?"
"Not magic." Bending to her drawing, she scribbled furiously, the pencil a blur in her hands. "Miracles and wonders. All part of the plan."
Uncertain whether to believe her or not .....
"Don't mess around with matters of faith, amigo."
A truly beautiful book with a page-turning plot as one wants to know what is going on. Is it all real or is it wishful thinking or is someone going a little crazy? Where does the truth start, and for that matter, where does it end? The imagery is simply beautiful and while I've talked of how the book affected me as a Christian I know that it is meant to be a mainstream book and that one with different beliefs will get a completely different message from the book and feel more of the magic in the "magical realism", than I did. The only reason my rating is not a full five points is that the ending is left ambiguous for some characters and I wish it had given us a finite ending for them but then I do see why the author ended it this way, so that we, the reader, can make up our own minds. But, I'm afraid I do prefer my endings to be written down in black in white, no guessing. I heartily recommend this book and I'll leave you with another quote that touched me.
"Atoms and angels, reason and faith," he went on. "one without the other is less than half as strong and can be a danger to our vitality. Reason is subject to the tests of logic and observable, demonstrable phenomena. Faith is tested by our desire and will. One cannot see faith, just as one cannot pour out hope or love from a beaker. Self-sacrifice and devotion escape the strongest microscope, but such qualities of spirit can be shown and known by us all, my dear. And so with God's messengers, more believed than seen, more felt than touched, our angels exist in open hearts, if we have but faith."