Downer Book Week: Astonished
07 June 2013
by Beverly Donofrio
I thought I'd end this very special Downer Book Week with a book that, in a surprise twist, really wasn't all that much of a downer. It certainly seemed like it was going to be, though, in the beginning:
"Even though I do know the important question is not why this happened to me but what I'm going to do now; and even though I was fifty-five and the attacker was a serial rapist in a small town, raping gringo women between fifty and sixty; and even though I, along with the entire town, felt like evil had come for a visit and it was not personal; and even though this little round-faced pervert with a big-billed baseball cap woke me in the middle of the night in the middle of a deep sleep in my own bed with a knife inches from my face, I was absolutely shocked that he chose me. This was not supposed to happen; I was supposed to have escaped: I had hot flashes and liver spots and was finally in the final stretch. I'd survived all these decades without experiencing this thing I dreaded as much as death--and had just been looking for a monastery to join, for Christ's sake."
I have always been weirdly fond of Beverly Donofrio. It has been so long since I read Riding in Cars with Boys that it's probably just time for me to read it again, but I do remember enjoying Looking for Mary: Or, the Blessed Mother and Me. The thing about Ms. Donofrio is, I would bet that she and I are just opposite personalities. This woman doesn't seem afraid of anything, and I'm afraid of a ton. Likewise, she has made some other personal choices (as described in her memoirs, of course, I don't really know her) that I most likely wouldn't have made. And yet I really enjoy her, and her writing voice.
In this book, Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace, she makes pilgrimages of sorts to various monasteries and religious/spiritual communities, looking for a plan for spending the rest of her life, and of course, trying to come to terms with, or simply move on from, the rape, thoughts and mention of which are never far from the story. So it can certainly be a downer book in that sense. And it's a bit meandering--there is not so much a narrative here as a stream-of-consciousness report; reading it is like hearing someone talking to themselves and trying to work something out (and in between that Donofrio intersperses quotes from other spiritual writers and books).
I'm describing it poorly*, but I would like to say that by the end of it I was really quite touched. That sounds twee, which I did not feel at all. Rather I felt even more affection for Donofrio (who seems spiritual, and thoughtful, but not really sentimental), and wonder at the human race in general. It was not a downer feeling at all.
*Read this review for a better synopsis.