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.
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.