Who was Mary? How did a hard-working young peasant girl feel about becoming the mother of God, and later, seeing her firstborn crucified? Prolific author Melody Carlson (ANGELS IN THE SNOW, THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT) pens a first-person account of Mary's life, framed around the events of his death and crucifixion.
Functioning as a broad-brush narration of the well-known story, Carlson uses flashbacks to retell the events of Jesus' life from his conception to his ascension. She starts slowly, gaining strength as the story unfolds. Although the retellings will be comfortingly familiar to many Christian readers, Carlson's real strength comes when she stretches to imagine what Jesus' relationships were like. She does a good job describing the myriad feelings Mary experiences as her relationship with Jesus transforms from mother/son to mother/Lord.
The transition is portrayed as initially painful. As Mary watches Jesus turn the water to wine in the miracle of Cana, she reflects:
"Was I amazed by the incredible miracle my son had performed? Well, of course; who would not be? But the main thing that kept me awake that night was the stinging memory of the way Jesus had looked at me, the way he had called me 'woman' instead of 'Mother.' Almost as if he were dismissing me altogether, as if I was no longer his mother and someone worthy of respect and honor. And that is when I knew --- I knew to the depths of my soul --- something between us had changed. Something was separating us, like an invisible wedge that would go deeper and deeper, slowly driving us apart. And I believe that wedge was the Lord God Almighty. I was not sure why he would do this to me."
As Jesus' ministry develops, Carlson brings the reader back to Mary's life in Nazareth, "our unbelieving and insignificant little town." She imagines Mary's treatment by the other women in town --- rejection, shunning. "I would walk down to the well, and suddenly I would hear the voices get quieter, followed by hushed whispers and quick sideways glances. I knew what they were saying. And it hurt. Deeply," reflects Mary.
In Carlson's hands, Mary soon becomes an outspoken evangelist for Jesus, a different treatment than other novelists have given her. She travels with the crowds that follow Jesus' ministry, retells his parables to the neighborhood women and children, and is outspoken that her son is also the Son of God.
There are some stumbling blocks. The narration is often flat and devoid of emotion. Mary is a little distant, a little unapproachable. Wordiness makes the pacing drag in places. Occasionally, comparisons don't make sense ("My soul is weary as a stone" is used twice) or statements feel awkward ("…we had a piece of God living in our midst.")
Some of the stronger portions of the novella include a freshly conceived scene where Mary watches Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, and reflects, "I cannot help but recall a time thirty-three years ago when the woman being shamed could have so easily been me. Now, I was not guilty of adultery or fornication, but to be found pregnant outside of marriage would have made it seem like I was." Readers of THE DA VINCI CODE will appreciate that Carlson addresses the relationship between Mary of Magdala and Jesus (Mary of Magdala may be in love with him, but Jesus loves her only as he loves us all).
Although this narrative lacks the zing of other stories about Mary, such as Francine Rivers's novella, UNAFRAID, readers of Biblical fiction will discover some new insights through Carlson's portrayal of the mother of God.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on February 1, 2005