Monday, September 08, 2008

Reader's Diary #394- Meg Waite Clayton: Perfect Circles

Short Story Monday

I found this story via Alessandra who reviewed it as part of C.B. James' Short Story September Challenge.

I grew up in a very secular household. Though we partook in such festivities as Christmas and Easter, the primary focus was never religion. While we went to church occasionally when I was really young, that tapered off eventually, and that was that. On those rare Sundays when we had gone, it was to the either the United or Anglican church. My hometown had four main denominations, the two mentioned above plus Salvation Army and Pentecostal. As a child I'd hardly even heard of a Catholic. As a teen, I knew they had a pope and threw holy water at foul-mouthed little girls and that was about it. It was around this time that the news of Mount Cashel broke...

After that everyone seemed to have their opinions, mostly negative, about the Catholic Church. While I felt horrible for the victims, I still didn't give the Church much thought, until I moved to St. John's to go to university. That part of the island had much more of a Catholic presence, with Catholic-run schools, the Basilica, and of course the orphanage which was just after being torn down by the time I had arrived.

Eventually, I met and became friends with many Catholics and despite all the issues people have had with their faith, I found their ceremony and traditions mesmerizing. The first time I'd seen my roommate with ashes on his forehead, I giggled and said, "you've got a huge smudge of dirt on your head!"

Reading Meg Waite Clayton's "Perfect Circles" brought back a lot of that fascination for me, and some of the humour. There was something about performing mass in a kitchen that seemed so counterintuitive to the seriousness of the rite. That a conversation about the Chicago Bulls would prelude psalm 31, that Katy wondered if rules against women behind an altar applied to kitchen island altars, or that the Penitential Rite would be interrupted by a phone ringing and sounds of the answering machine cutting in, all added to my amusement. But it was an uncomfortable amusement that added to the tension between Katy who has left the Catholic Church (and is now engaged to a divorced man) and her brother John who is a priest.

Though I found that I couldn't look away, I'm sure I missed some of the finer points of the story. Alessandra remarked in her review that she enjoyed the symbology of circles (as the title would suggest we should), but I didn't really get it. That Katy was serving pancakes to her family while her brother offered communion bread, seemed like an obvious contrast. But was it just about showing differences between the two or are there Catholic implications? I know pancakes are eaten on Shrove Tuesday, but how this might apply to the story isn't really clear to me. And even though the final sentence had an annoying "I'll spell it out for you" feel:

"I turned to the griddle, then, and stirred the batter one last time, and I poured the last of it out into three perfect circles, each one as round as a communion host."

some of the symbols still didn't register. Three? Does that have something to do with the Holy Trinity? How does that apply?

Maybe you'd need to be a Catholic to fully appreciate the story.

I felt like I'd just watched a Wes Anderson film. Interested, squeamish and amused, but completely lost.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm sure I will be completely flummoxed, then, but I shall give it a go anyway.

Unknown said...

Welcome to Short Story September and thanks for the links. I'll add your site and this review to mine.

Sounds like an interesting story, too.

Stephanie said...

Gotta love Short Story Mondays!! I've missed it. As a Catholic, but a new Catholic, I may have to give this one a try. Sounds really interesting.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: I take it you're not of the Catholic persuasion either?

CB James: Thanks. I love short stories, so I'm always willing to support such a challenge.

Stephanie: I've missed, I think, two Mondays this year. But that's not a bad record. If you read this one, let me know what you think.