Monday, November 20, 2017

“Can You See Anything Now?” by Katherine James

It is not by happenstance that the two significant events of Katherine James’s new, beautifully spare novel Can You See Anything Now? involve water.

In the first, Margie Nethercott, an artist who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, paddles a canoe into a lake, ties herself to a rock, and drops the rock into the water. The lake turns out to be too shallow, the attempt at suicide fails, and Margie has to call to people on the shore to rescue her. That means the entire town of Trinity, upstate from New York City, will know of the failed attempt.

Margie’s husband Nick is the town’s psychologist. He didn’t know his wife intended suicide.

In the second water event, a young college student, the Columbia University roommate of Margie and Nick’s daughter Noel, falls into Trinity’s river. Her name is Pixie. She regularly cuts herself, sleeps around, and takes various drugs – none of which is done by Noel.

Water becomes a kind of baptism, pushing the people of this novel into new understandings and new lives.

The Nethercott family is the center of the narrative, but no one really assumes the role of lead character. Noel’s high school friends – Miriam, Jason, and especially Owen – move as much through the story as the Nethercotts. We meet Etta, a Christian and artist who is known for painting tomatoes, until Margie begins to teach her how to paint other things. And Pete, Pixie’s somewhat estranged father, who should probably be on meds.

Katherine James
But we more than meet these characters. We find ourselves inside their heads and hearts, inhabiting the interiors of people before we realize what’s happening. They tell themselves things they don’t tell the other characters; they make decision and judgments about themselves and each other. And we come to understand that we are witnessing a group of people in a small town slowly breaking through what confines and almost stifles them, to find something as unexpected as redemption and grace.

James is a writer of both fiction and narrative non-fiction. Her work has been published in various literary journals and anthologies. She received an MFA degree from Columbia University and taught undergraduate classes in fiction there. This is her first novel; a memoir, Notes on Orion, about heroin use in the Philadelphia suburbs and how it affected her family, will be published in 2018. She lives in Pennsylvania.

Set in a small town, Can You See Anything Now? is a story about inhabiting the human heart.


Top photograph by Cristina Munteanu via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

It was the wind

After Romans 8: 22-29

It was the wind I noticed
first, as it increased
from breeze before
it progressed to storm,
the wind carrying all
before it, sweeping away
what was to leave space
for what will be, its noise
a groaning in my ears,
a groaning so harsh it tears
at the heart of my soul,
stripping away the clay
so carefully constructed,
exposing the nakedness
to cleanse, to clothe,
to lift up.

Photograph by Jacob Ufkes via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday Good Reads

At one time, executions of convicted criminals were considered good “object lessons” for the public, and so they were held (or staged) for the public to see. Spitalfields Life has an example of what that was like, in “The Executions of Old London.”

A good week for poetry: Oxford University has a digital archive of the poetry of World War I, while Giles Fraser at The Guardian has a column about the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who died in world War I. Marilyn Nelson at Image Journal has a poem about camp meetings.

Tim Challies reminds us that, despite the current fad (especially among Christians) of knocking everything about evangelicals, they are actually doing some good and fine work. Thomas Kidd has a warning about opinion polls, and how unreliable they are when it comes to the term “evangelical.” Michael Kelley at Forward Progress has another kind of reminder – the gospel does indeed elevate our souls, but it first brings us to our knees. And Jeanne Damoff has some pictures of grace and faith from an art and talent show.

And a lot more.


Camp Meeting – Marilyn Nelson at Image Journal.

Hedd Wyn: the shepherd poet whose story shows the stupidity of war – Giles Fraser at The Guardian (Hat Tip: J of India).

Thomas Merton – D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

British Stuff

The Executions of Old London – Spitalfields Life.


The Gift of Grace: The Young Life Capernaum Art and Talent Show – Jeanne Damoff at The View from Here.

The Gospel Cuts the Knees Before It Lifts the Soul – Michael Kelley at Forward Progress.

Remembering Father George – Caroline Langston at Image Journal.

The Level Playing Field – Martha Orlando at Meditations of My Heart.

Opinion Polls and the ‘Evangelical’ Illusion – Thomas Kidd at The Gospel Coalition.

Wretchedly Familiar: When Life Seems Unfair - Diana Trautwein at She Loves Magazine.

Life and Culture

Where Are You From? – Jeff Rakestraw at Random Thoughts.

Art and Photography

Churches of East St. Louis, Part 8 – Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina.

Layers of the Night – James BO Insogna at Striking Fine Art iGallery.

Rudbeckia triloba – Tim Good at National Geographic / Your Shot.

Writing and Literature

New Book: Love Letters to Writers by Andi Cumbo-Floyd – Lisa Deam at The Contemplative Writer.

“Crime and Punishment:” A Timeless Psychological Masterpeice – Daniel Ross Goodman at The Imaginative Conservative.

Edinburgh 1544 Townscape – Smart History

Painting: Girl Reading in a Sunlit Room, oil on canvas by Carl Vilhelm Holsoe (1863-1935).