” … this book … is not an inspirational romance. It is a regular contemporary romance that features characters who happen to be religious … Spirituality is an important aspect of human experience and the lives of a lot of people, but it’s often surprisingly absent from contemporary romances … the point of this story is not to present any sort of religious message, but faith is important to these characters, and so the plot and character development turns on their spiritual condition.” Says Adams in the forward to A Baby For Easter. Miss Bates was fascinated by her distinction and remains fascinated by any treatment of religion in romance, especially if it’s not contained in the obvious, i.e., the inspirational sub-genre. She was also keen to read Adams when she read Ros’s interview with her here. Miss Bates’s opinion of the novel is two-fold, how the religious theme was treated and how it held up as a romance: the former was refreshing, appealing, and interesting, and the latter, uneven. Miss Bates agrees with Adams when she says that religious content should come naturally to the romance novel because religion, or the questioning of religion, or the rejection of it, are ideas that many people consider at some, or many times in their lives. It doesn’t have to be in every romance, but it also doesn’t have to be so strangely absent from it either. It is an aspect that offers one more opportunity to enrich character and deepen narrative; or not, depending on the treatment and writing. It does so in A Baby For Easter, so much so that the romance pales in comparison. Miss Bates enjoyed Adams’s novel and would recommend it with caveats; as Adams herself says in her forward, “there’s likely to be too much religion for some readers and too little for others.” In Miss B.’s estimation, the religious component was “just right” for her taste and sensibility. What the novel gained in that richness, it lost in the romance. The narrative giveth with one hand and the narrative taken away with another.
“She thought about it as resurrecting her life, since Easter was only a few weeks away. She’d always loved Easter with its promise of hope, healing, and new life … “ We meet Alice Grantham when she’s returned to Willow Park, N. Carolina, laid off from her job as a college librarian and with two failed engagements behind her. She lives with her parents, holding two part-time jobs, one as the pastor’s, Daniel’s, secretary and the other as librarian in the local public library. Her heart and confidence have taken beatings. Alice is not vain: her loss of confidence doesn’t stem from what she looks like, or what she did or didn’t do in her now-broken engagements. It stems from her loss of confidence in her ability to judge what’s right for her. Micah, the pastor’s unsmiling younger brother, with whom she’d spent one halcyon summer at eighteen, and his standoffish-ness every time he sees her now … well, it doesn’t do much to boost her confidence. Because Alice carries a torch. But Alice isn’t a whiner, or helpless ninny. She’s soft-spoken, self-deprecating, and ready to rebuild her life and be happy with whatever she has at hand. What Miss Bates loved about her was that she wasn’t stoic. She was cautious, thoughtful, but hopeful and loving too. As quoted above, she used Easter and the triumph of the Resurrection as a building metaphor for her life: it’s fitting and right. It’s what God wants for us; though Ms Adams states that her novel doesn’t carry any overt Christian message, this is a religious metaphor, a most appealing Christian one. It’s just not of the proselytizing, evangelical variety contained in inspirational romance.
“He was still standing there, by himself in the otherwise empty church parking lot, tall and strong and handsome, and somehow lonely.” This is the hero, Micah, as Alice sees him. Alice’s perspective is the only one we’re privy to in A Baby For Easter. Adams is no master-stylist-Betty-Neels in terms of singular POV, but it didn’t interfere with Miss Bates’s enjoyment. Micah, like a Betty Neels hero, is a cipher. We never know what’s going on in his head. Certainly not for the first half of the novel as he plays silent and distant to Alice’s effusiveness. They meet often because of their connection to Daniel, but their shared past stands sentinel between them. Truth be told, Miss Bates found the first third and a bit of this short novel disappointing. The set-up took a while and, frankly, the narrative was flat: it took too long to get to know the characters. However, once Baby Cara appears (the result of Micah’s dissipated youth and a one-night-stand). Micah, at his wit’s end with a five-month old, asks Alice to act as nanny. Once Alice accepts, well, things start to simmer quite nicely. Part of that also comes when Adams gives Micah a voice. Micah’s voice, as he opens up to Alice, is an interesting one. Micah identifies as a sinner: he doesn’t beat himself up over what he’s done, but he feels “broken,” flawed, a failure. Miss Bates found this “broken-ness” theme compelling. It contained the role that religious conviction plays in healing “broken-ness.” Micah’s remoteness conceals a man unsure of whether he can ever do right and one who questions whether he deserves love and loyalty; as he says to Alice during one of their relationship’s darkest moments, ” ‘I was thinking about you. I just … made a mess of this whole thing, but I should have done better by you.’ ” Contrite and helpless, that’s Micah.
” ‘ … That other me keeps trying to drag me back, still trying to break me.’ “ Alice too is “broken,” but she’s found a salvific religious metaphor that she offers to Micah; the following exchange summarizes the gift of resurrection:
” … I’ve been trying to … to resurrect my life since I’ve come home – to not be stupid, to not invest myself in lost causes, to not make up daydreams I think will make me happy, to focus on what my real priorities should be. But it’s hard, since that other Alice keeps rearing her head.”
… “What do you do when she does?”
… “I tell her to go away. That Easter is coming, and because of Easter I know the old Alice is already taken care.”
What Miss Bates found interesting about the passage is the idea that we remake ourselves in tandem with God. If we keep the message of the Resurrection in our hearts, then the “old Alice” is “taken care of.” We are not alone, nor do we act alone, but we are, at the same time, free to choose to remake ourselves. We accept love as we do a gift and there are no deserving, or undeserving, it is there for the taking. What Micah has to learn to do is to see himself as a gift too, something good that he can offer Cara and Alice, because the “old Micah,” he’s “taken care of.” Micah learns that he doesn’t have to carry the “old Micah” as a cross so heavy he cannot have a life beyond one of endurance and repentance, just as Alice doesn’t have to carry her past naïveté and passivity.
Is Alice such a paragon that she has nothing to learn? Alice, in Miss Bates’s interpretation, has to learn to read the world around her as her “resurrected” self. What she didn’t do with her previous two fiancés is that: she didn’t read the signs of what was already incipiently wrong with their relationships. It’s not about assigning blame; it’s about reading people and situations for what will and will not work. She starts out by doing the same with Micah: she reads his diffidence as indifference instead of humility. She must recognize that when she extricated herself from her broken relationships, she learned to read signs, indicators that can help her make the right decisions and choices. She did it; she only has to recognize it now. Because this is a romance, yay!, there are signs in the form of Micah’s gifts, starting with that most humble and decadent Easter treat, “… a box of chocolate cream-filled Easter eggs. He handed them to her, his expression diffident.” Alice is not stupid; she’s despondent. She too opens up to Micah when she says, ” ‘ … sometimes it feels like the world is taunting me with … a basket of beautiful flowers, making me think they could be mine. But then, when I reach out for them, all I get is a broken dandelion.’ ” A few days later, he arrives with “pink tulips” amongst the groceries. She doesn’t even realize they’re for her. Until she does, all she sees are dandelions. The best moment of the novel is when Micah offers her “an enormous basket filled with flowers – tulips and roses and lilies and orchids and daisies” and she doesn’t have to think twice to realize they’re for her … everything is, the beautiful baby and beautiful now-whole man and flowers. And because it’s what makes the romance genre so wonderful at times, in the end, she gets the words too.
It started out slow and Miss Bates had her doubts about style and POV, but the resurrection of this novel in the last half made sure the the first half was “taken care of.” In Noelle Adams’s A Baby For Easter, Miss Bates found, “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Noelle Adams’s A Baby For Easter has been available, as a self-published title, in paper and e-format, since April 7th, at the usual vendors.
Miss Bates is grateful to the author, for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
What thoughts do you have, dear reader, about the treatment of religious belief and practice in the romance genre, especially outside of inspirational romance?