Magazines 2024 Mar - Apr Making Up the Gods

Making Up the Gods

01 March 2024 By Marianne Jones

An extended review of a 2023 novel by Marion Agnew

Note: Our print issue contains a shorter version of this review. Faith Today welcomes your thoughts on any of our reviews. We also welcome suggestions of other Canadian Christian books to review: Contact us.

Latitude Publishing, 2023. 383 pages, $24 (e-book $10)

Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote, “love consists in this: that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” Written from the points of view of three disparate characters, Marion Agnew’s novel Making Up the Gods demonstrates, with affection and subtle humour, the truth of Rilke’s statement.

Simone is a 70-year-old widow who prefers solitude with her ghosts to engaging with the living. She is aware that the time is approaching when she won’t be able to maintain herself and her beloved property on Lake Superior by herself but avoids thinking about it.

Martin is a middle-aged recovering alcoholic struggling to get his life together. When he is offered a job pretending to be Simone’s cousin, he is uneasy, but unable to resist the temptation of enough money to get back on his feet.

Chen is a precocious, lonely child struggling to come to terms with the loss of his father and brother in a tragic accident.

Making Up the Gods is a charming story about three unlikely people who find their awkward paths from grief and loss to form a kind of family. It is a wonderful addition to the growing body of regional literature from Northwestern Ontario.

Author Agnew does a brilliant job of getting inside the heads of her three main characters. Their voices are authentic as they navigate through their doubts and suspicions toward opening themselves to each other. As the story unfolds, they reveal the experiences that have shaped them into the people that they are, torn between self-protection and the drive toward wholeness.

That wholeness is found in community is the underlying theme of this book. Simone has already had a glimpse of that healing community in her church, in the offering of support and compassion that takes place in the face of tragedy. It is in response to that example that she reluctantly agrees to look after nine-year-old Chen while his grieving mother goes on a much-needed trip.

City-bred Chen, who is used to learning from the Internet, finds that rural living offers a lived education that is more satisfying. Especially when his dream of seeing a bear is fulfilled. He and crusty Simone bond over books, skipping stones, yard work and theological discussions centering around the book of Job. He learns that the reclusive Simone is not “crazy” as she has been labeled by his schoolmates, but “unique, like everybody else.”

Martin, who was hired to persuade Simone to sell her property, begins to find his conscience winning out as he spends time with her and Chen. He, too, suffers from a lack of family connections and is increasingly drawn to the idea of exchanging his charade with “cousin” Simone for an honest friendship.

Written in Agnew’s laconic, dryly humorous style, the novel is affirming and positive without sentimentality. It captures the special magic of country living where “inconveniences become adventures.” It shows how through the rituals of mundane chores, conversations, misunderstandings and apologies, strangers begin to bond and understand that they are not so different after all.

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