[at dotCommonweal, Cassandra Nelson reviews Mary Gordon's book]
Can good ever come from evil, or truth from a lie? St. Augustine answered the first question in the affirmative nearly sixteen centuries ago, when he observed that although the fall of man had brought sin and death into the world, it also paved the way for Christ’s incarnation and redemption. From him we have the idea of the felix culpa, or “fortunate fall,” for “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.”
As for the second question, poets and fiction writers have long demonstrated how certain lies, by a kind of alchemy, can teach us the truth.
Mary Gordon comes to these questions rather late in her career—The Liar’s Wife is her fourth collection of short fiction; other books include six novels and three memoirs—but in doing so, she has produced some of her finest work yet. The first novella in particular, from which the collection takes its name, is a small masterpiece of the form, not least because it asks questions as difficult and enduring as the two above, and it doesn’t settle for pat or easy answers. Read on.