catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 18 :: 2010.10.08 — 2010.10.21


An M&M and a prayer

First-time novelist Joyce Magnin serves up a generous helping of quirk and humor in The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, a homespun story about faith, miracles and loving marginalized people.  Griselda, the younger sister of 600-pound Agnes, has resigned herself to a life of caretaking for Agnes, a homebound, middle-aged woman who lives in the viewing room of their family’s former funeral home, lunches on M&Ms and relieves herself on a custom, doublewide commode they call “Big Flo.” Agnes spends her days in prayer for the residents of Bright’s Pond, and as a result, seven miracles are attributed to her (more than twice the Vatican requirement for sainthood). 

Agnes sends Griselda to protest when residents decide to erect a sign in Agnes’s honor, and the ensuing melee wakes up this otherwise sleepy little town in Pennsylvania.  Still, it isn’t until the brouhaha surrounding a stranger with a secret prayer request begins to spread that everyone sees the business of faith and miracles in a different light. 

A key ingredient in this cozy novel is its humorous approach to a real-life challenge: loving marginalized people.  Although Agnes finds great purpose in prayer, her decision to confine herself to her home isolates her from personal contact with the general population of Bright’s Pond.  She, in a sense, relegates herself to the fate of the dead who are likewise cut off from the living once they pass through the doors of a funeral home.  And Griselda finds that living in the light of this obscure, secluded prayermonger has not only lessened her own propensity to pray, but has also squelched any expectation that something marvelous might ever happen in her life.  

I laughed my way to the realization that a major part in this faith-miracle paradigm was choice.  Griselda longs to “sit at a table and eat a meal surrounded by family,” but instead submits to serving up whatever “fat Agnes” fancies on a lap tray, and eats on the bed or on the couch where her sister can be comfortable.  She likewise endures the odors of old marinara sauce and beef gravy whenever Agnes plops down on their red, velvet sofa, maneuvering her enormously wide hips into place.  Griselda dreams of a different life, but instead accepts her role as potty steward, and sometimes rushes home from other activities in order to help her sister into the bathroom and to count precisely to 84 before opening the door each time Agnes flushes “Big Flo.” 

In the act of loving her sister, Griselda is trapped by Agnes’s dependence on her, and becomes just as marginalized.  This epiphany comes as an unexpected miracle for Griselda when an older woman in town helps her view her own life more realistically, and reminds her that Agnes’s life is in God’s hands.  Griselda’s response:  “God must have some huge hands.”    

Joyce Magnin’s personal brand of quirk abounds in The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow.  Laugh, cry, enjoy!      

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