Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 4, 2002
It's not Mary - or is it?
Our Lady of the Lost and Found, by Diane Schoemperlen. Harper Flamingo Canada, 2001. 349 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
"This is a work of fiction"
This is found on the first page of the book. I had to keep reminding myself of the above as I was reading this book. I repeated, "This is a work of fiction." And yet, what I was reading sure sounded and felt much different than fiction.
I first heard about the book in an interview with the author on the national morning program on CBC Radio. I joined the conversation in the middle.
A discussion on various Marian apparitions was occurring. I found it amusing and odd that CBC would do a program on Marian apparitions. It was only after listening for a while that I realized it was an interview with a former Governor General Award novelist Diane Schoemperlen about her new book, Our Lady of the Lost and Found.
The story begins with a writer, single female, mid-40s, living in a small Canadian city in central Canada. Reflecting back on the activities of a few months earlier, the narrator (who is never identified) recognizes that there were signs or omens of the events to come.
All of a sudden little things began to happen: the perfect parking space at the mall; fast, friendly and efficient service at the bank; the car, which had been running rough, was now purring along beautifully; everything she was looking for was available at the store, etc.
Suddenly one morning, a woman wearing a navy blue coat, covered with milagros (special prayers or gifts offered to Mary for favours granted shaped as arms or legs or eyes to indicate the body part healed or to be healed) and Nike runners appears in her living room and introduces herself as Mary, the Mother of God.
She has been extremely busy and needs a place to rest for a week as the month of May is fast approaching and it is her busiest month. She had checked out other homes but this is the one she feels would suit her the best.
The story moves through a week of the life of the narrator with occasional glimpses of the dialogue between Mary and the narrator.
Some of the events are somewhat humorous like when the narrator goes to the mall and takes Mary along. At first she is hesitant to invite her for fear of what Mary might say after her Son's difficulty with the money changers in the Temple.
But Mary, while 2,000 years old, is not stuck in the past and is excited to go shopping as she needs some toiletries. It turns out she has her own debit card with the Greek name Mary Theotokos (Mother of God), the name she was given at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
The book provides reflections on a variety of topics ranging from science and history to faith and God. Chapters alternate between narratives of interactions between the narrator and Mary and reflections and "history," retellings of many of the apparitions of Mary over the past 2,000 years.
The author explains that the accounts of all of the apparitions are taken from actual sightings but the last one which is fiction and used to further along the story.
I was captivated by this "novel" and the unique form of literature presented. It does not read like a typical novel and I had to remind myself this is a work of fiction. It would have been easy for Schoemperlen to fall into a pattern highlighting the fantastic and unrealistic but she maintains an integrity of theme and tone throughout.
There is a search for faith and belief that seeps out of this writing and it carefully avoids the blasphemous and stays true to Catholic teaching.
I was quite taken by the book and it led me to search some of the Internet resources and sites for Mary that Schoemperlen provides at the end of the book.
A very satisfying and thought provoking read. But it is a work of fiction.
(Dean Sarnecki is chaplain and religious studies teacher at Archbishop Jordan High School in Sherwood Park .)