Immaculate Heart by Camille DeAngelis
Published by St. Martin’s Press, 304 pages, $26
Receiving a vision of the Virgin Mary might seem to be a miraculous, beautiful event. But in the lives of the four Irish teens in this novel, the experience lurches in traumatic directions.
Our narrator is a New York journalist who had met the three girls in the group a few years before the apparition during a boyhood visit to Ballymorris. Now, 25 years later, he’s returned to the town, ostensibly for a funeral, but really to explore the effects of the vision with an objective journalistic eye—and to remember his connections with and affections toward the girls.
News of the visitation initially brought sick tourists seeking cures through magic waters. But that fervor faded after the Church declined to recognize the apparition, which seems like it may have been more of a curse than a blessing to those who saw it. Declan, the lone boy in the foursome, left the country. Orla, now married with three kids, wants to deny it ever happened. Tess, whom the journalist had kissed as a 12-year-old, has become a nun—sensible, intelligent, but soaked with old guilts. The most tortured girl, Síle, was deemed crazy and institutionalized. But the journalist appreciates her genuine being and falls a bit in love with her as he tries to uncover the truth of what happened that day.
Somerville scribe DeAngelis’ colorful rendering of the local bar-dwelling Irishmen—and the rollicking cynicism that is their religion—reads like it dripped from an Irish pen. In an inquiring spirit, DeAngelis lets many possibilities float as she explores the effects of the visitation on the girls, which range from diamond-bright to disturbingly dark.
From Page 226: What if you ran into the Blessed Virgin Mary somewhere—like trying on a blue silk scarf at a department store, or giving her seat to a white-haired man with a cane on a crowded subway car—and she was dressed like an ordinary woman, and you never knew it was her?