A chance encounter with a kangaroo led to Heather Curridge’s first encounter with Quakers. This sentence may have had some credulity if Heather was in Australia but she was in Maryland, USA. She is the heroine of Lisa Samson’s novel, Quaker Summer. This is a tale of a middle class American mom’s angst at the hollowness of her materialism, followed by her redemptive journey towards becoming a better person and a better Christian.
Lisa Samson writes to a particular market. I suspect that if Heather Curridge were real, she’d probably be reading Lisa Samson. This book was a winner of the 2007 ‘Women of Faith novel of the year award’ – “when you see the words ‘Women of Faith Fiction’ on a novel, you’re guaranteed a reading experience that will capture your imagination and inspire your faith”.
To her credit, Heather Curridge is a protagonist who realises that she is living a fairly hollow version of Christianity and we join her as she’s gently unravelling some of her life’s pain. She’s got it all, or so it seems, if ‘all’ is a nice husband who earns a lot of money, a nice son, a nice house, a nice car. Nice. But not nice either. Although Heather volunteers at her son’s school (mostly, it seems, in ways that involve making cake, so much so that the picture accompanying this post is of cake) and has everything she thinks she could want, she’s not fulfilled. There’s an emptiness in her life that even buying soft furnishings from TJ Maxx can’t fill.
So we follow Heather as she works her way through her travails, the foremost of which turns out to be atoning for having bullied two of her peers at school. She goes on a journey (both literally and metaphorically) in this regard, while learning a little more about herself and gaining insights here and there about Christianity.
A turning point in Heather’s journey (and the reader’s, frankly, because the pace is pretty slow for the first 130 pages until this incident) is the night when she swerves to miss a kangaroo in the road and hits a ditch, splattering cake everywhere. She stumbles away and into the arms of a nearby elderly woman, a Quaker living with her sister.
In the following weeks, Heather ends up taking time out from her family to stay with Anna and Liza, who turn out to be pretty cool women. They’re not unlike many of the Quakers who I first met when I started going regularly to meeting in 2000. They’re full of insights, not overbearing and they’re willing for Heather to find her own way through her minorly-troubled life.
Just as an unprogrammed (waiting in silence upon God) meeting for worship can provide insights to tackle problems away from the hustle and bustle of a busy life, Heather’s stay with Anna and Liza becomes a space for Heather to find her own answers. She’s lucky to have such an understanding family and the opportunity to get away like this. I imagine that many soccer moms don’t get the opportunity to make such cataclysmic changes away from home and have to do so bit-by-bit amidst the clamour of their busy lives.
But back to the Quakers. They’re a nice couple and easy to warm to and identify with. One gets arrested on an anti-war demonstration during the course of the novel and there’s a nice plug for Friends Committee for National Legislation in there too. The hero of the story doesn’t become a Quaker, but it’s a good cameo role. The Quakers come up with some great insights, such as this from Liza: “In the pain I lean on [God]. In the good, somehow, I participate with Him in a way that binds me to Him and Him to me in a different way. He allows me to partner with Him during those times, and I find that to be the highest honour He could ever bestow upon an old sinner like me.”
The whole story isn’t particularly favouring of any part of the Christian church, as Heather is a protestant and she begins volunteering at a Catholic charity helping people to overcome drug addiction.
Despite the desparately slow start, I eventually found myself warming to Heather and willing her on. I even found myself weeping a little once mid-novel and right at the end.
This isn’t one of the best books that I’ve read this year, but I’m glad that I didn’t give up on it during the first third or so. It is ultimately an inspiring and rewarding read.
Quaker Summer by Lisa Sansom is published by Thomas Nelson and is available from the Quaker Centre Bookshop.