In a Carmelite monastery outside present-day Los Angeles, life goes on in a manner virtually un-changed for centuries. Sister John of the Cross has spent years there in the service of God. And there, she alone experiences visions of such dazzling power and insight that she is looked upon as a spiritual master.
But Sister John's visions are accompanied by powerful headaches, and when a doctor reveals that they may be dangerous, she faces a devastating choice. For if her spiritual gifts are symptoms of illness rather than grace, will a "cure" mean the end of her visions and a soul once again dry and searching?
This is the dilemma at the heart of Mark Salzman's spare, astonishing new novel. With extraordinary dexterity, the author of the best-selling Iron & Silk and The Soloist brings to life the mysterious world of the cloister, giving us a brilliantly realized portrait of women today drawn to the rigors of an ancient religious life, and of one woman's trial at the perilous intersection of faith and reason.
Lying Awake is a novel of remarkable empathy and imagination, and Mark Salzman's most provocative work to date.
"Here, in his third novel and fifth book, Salzman has discovered a rule that permits him to be freed of himself and to discipline his talent. The result is so superior that it is not unreasonable to call this his masterpiece. . . . Lying Awake is stripped to essentials. . . . This story seems almost to be told through him rather than by him. . . . One wonders why this sortie into a discipline carries him to so much higher a plane [than his earlier attempts]. Mother Mary Joseph, the convent's "living rule," would doubtless say, as she says of Sister John, "God showers this one with graces." Could be she'd be right."
-Marian Burkhart, Commonweal