The Visitation
Sue Reidy
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Get *The Visitation* delivered to your door! The Visitation Sue Reidy
Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
269 pages
Copyright 1996
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Sue Reidy's The Visitation doesn't keep the reader wondering for long about the quirky nature of the story. The novel's first page sets the tone quite nicely:

Other children played 'Mothers and Fathers', 'Cowboys and Indians', or 'Cops and Robbers'. Catherine and Theresa Flynn played 'Martyrs and Suffering Virgins'...All their heroes were women and most of them had died horribly -- their deaths caused, naturally, by men.
Curled Up With a Good Book Reidy brings a lot of understated emotion to this story of a devoutly Catholic, definitely patriarchal New Zealand family, and their struggles to control and accept one another during the upheaval of the Sixties.

Patching their theology piece by piece from their father's strict adherence, their Latin monsignor's emotionalism and their Smoking Nana's atheism, Theresa and Catherine Flynn cobble together weird personal visions of religion and divinity. Theresa is fascinated with by the gruesome descriptions of torments suffered by the young virgin martyrs, and fears that she might be what Smoking Nana calls a "sadist." Quiet Catherine, on the other hand, decides that she's been called to the vocation, and begins wearing a miniature nun's habit and behaving in as saintly a manner as is possible for a preadolescent child. Their daydreams and fantasies are made suddenly manifest when the eldest Flynn daughters are visited in their backyard by the Virgin Mary, who comes bearing a message in favor of birth control for the world.

Mainly obedient children, the girls turn the letter over to their father. Mr. Flynn finds the contained message so at odds with his own beliefs that he pens a new one reavowing the tenet of procreation before turning the carefully resealed envelope over to Father Rafferty. The priest is discomfitted by the girls, believing that they believe the visitation happened, but unwilling to himself believe in such a miracle. The incident is dismissed by the adults in the know but never forgotten by the Flynn girls.

As adolescence grips Theresa and Catherine with its mysterious forces, the girls find themselves less able to endure their father's tyranny. Catherine discovers a truth about herself that enables her initiation into intimacy right under her parents' noses, while Theresa must kick and fight to get permission for a simple date. While the daughters struggle to reconcile their nascent desires with their Vaticanist upbringing, their mother too chafes at the bit of life she's created for herself. When Mary visits the teenaged girls a second time, she lights a slow-burning fuse under the tinderbox of the Flynn family that will alter the dynamics of the Flynn's forever.

An honestly touching and wickedly wry tale of personhood and family membership, The Visitation marks the promising debut of Sue Reidy. Chosen for the Barnes and Noble "Discover" award, The Visitation tells a funny and touching coming-of-age story that encompasses not only one family, but the world.

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