Monday, February 18, 2013

OUT OF THE DEEP I CRY by Julia Spencer-Fleming

“For a supposed scientist, he used a lot of metaphors. He was going on about links in the chain, about how each death sent ripples across the water, until more and more lives were swamped.” 


Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Out of the Deep I Cry is a powerful, but disturbing book.

When I thought about it later, I decided the book was supposed to be that way.

First, to the story. Actually, there are intertwining stories told in real time. In present time, the Rev. Clare Fergusson and her church are dealing with a leak in the church’s roof. Because the leak will damage the whole structure, one of the church members decides to divert a portion of her mother’s endowment to the cause.

That takes money away from the Millers Kill, NY, free clinic. And that leads to the disappearance of the clinic’s doctor.

Dr. Allan Rouse has been under stress. A local mother is picketing the clinic. She thinks a clinic vaccination caused her son’s autism.

Dr. Rouse’s disappearance echoes the 1930’s disappearance of Jonathon Ketchem. And Ketchem’s disappearance came about, in part, because of his stress at the death of his four children. (We see all this as it is happening. The author intertwines past and present stories.)

The Ketchems’ four children died of diphtheria. Their parents refused to have them vaccinated. Their sole remaining daughter is the woman who is now transferring her mother’s endowment from the clinic to St. Albans Episcopal Church to fix a leak.

In other words, a lot of voices cry from the deep. But that’s not what I found disturbing. Obviously the story deals with many controversial things. Not the least of those is the alleged role of vaccinations in causing autism. But for me, the most disturbing part of the book was in the romantic relationship between the Rev. Clare Fergusson and the married chief of police Russ Van Alstyne.

As an ordained small town minister, I’ve seen churches and small towns torn apart because of the sexual indiscretion of a minister. I found it hard to see Clare and Russ as heroes. And I’d guess that’s as the author wanted it to be.

Nothing is simple in this book. There are no clear-cut answers. And there are no happy endings.

Clare knows she is violating her ministerial ethics. She tries to break off the relationship (which they haven’t consummated). But she doesn’t seem able to turn away.

So, finally, Spencer-Fleming doesn’t plot the book to have a clear denouement. She writes about real life.

Will I read the next book in the series? Almost certainly. But I don’t see any way this series can have a happy ending. 

One other small note. This book is set in a community formed when towns and farmland were flooded by a 1930's dam project. I lived in such a community myself. I know that even after more than half a century, many people still hurt because of the loss of their farms, towns, and churches, and because of their relocated graveyards.


Yvette said...

Wonderful review, Joe. I've read this series since the very beginning until the latest book so I know how the relationship ends - I kind of figured it out ahead of time, but still I wondered. The author really had no other choice IF she wanted certain things to happen.

I will admit that the main reason I love this series is because of the very relationship that made you uncomfortable.

I guess I never stopped to think about it in reality.

But Clare is a decent woman, not to mention, a minister and a helicopter pilot in the Reserves, going so far as to actually sign up for an additional tour overseas to get away from the feelings she has for Russ).

They are both deeply conflicted and are in no way eager to pursue their attraction to each other. It is just one of those unfortunate things.

This is a superb series of books and I too recommend them highly.

Joe Barone said...

Yvette, Thanks for your nice note. We all read out of our own experiences, don't we?