I’m not exactly a religious person, and almost never read books that could be labeled “Christian Fiction,” but there was something about the description of Dancing with Gravity, the debut novel from Anene Tressler, that made me think this one was somehow a little different than the typical genre offering.
Dancing with Gravity tells the story of Father Samuel Whiting, a Catholic priest who finds himself approaching middle age only to discover he’s not entirely sure how he got to where he is in life, nor is he sure he wants to be there anymore.
Already constantly questioning his ability to adequately handle his role as head of Pastoral Care at a teaching hospital in St. Louis, Father Whiting returns from an extended trip to Italy for a conference only to find another large, and unusual, responsibility foisted upon him… to minister to the spiritual needs of a group of circus performers who have set up shop at the nearby Missionary Sisters of the Little Flower’s motherhouse.
As Father Whiting gets to know the colorful members of the troup he strikes up a friendship with Nikolai, one of the trapeze artists. As their unlikely friendship deepens, Father Whiting comes to realize he’s been sleepwalking through life, not fully experiencing all it has to offer.
Author Anene Tressler does a very nice job of allowing the reader a glimpse into the turmoil raging in Father Whiting as he seeks to overcome the confusion and doubts awakened in him by his association with his vibrant new friends. Chief among those doubts is the question of love. Is platonic love enough? What is he to do with the feelings he is suddenly all too aware he feels for the attractive public relations director at the hospital where he works? Can he live a full and exciting life while still holding to the tenets of the priesthood?
Though some of the trials and tribulations which Father Whiting faces are specific to his position as a Catholic priest, just as many are of a nature that could confront any person during the course of their life (is the secretary he inherited from his predecessor really trying to sabotage him?). Dancing with Gravity is not about the struggles a Catholic priest faces as a man, but of those experienced by a singular man who just happens to be a Catholic priest. In the end Father Whiting’s path to self-discovery brought to mind for me a line from John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem Maud Muller: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, It might have been!”
If you really can’t get “past” the idea of a Catholic priest as the protagonist of a book then this just isn’t for you, there’s no way around that. But if you’re willing to take the story as it comes, to look at Father Whiting the same way you would any character tackling their own unique set of problems and challenges in life, then you should definitely consider going Dancing with Gravity.
Dancing with Gravity is available from Blank Slate Press (ISBN: 978-0982880647).
– Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler –
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